Lecture 18: Psalms
Course: Old Testament Survey
Please join me in prayer. Father, we pray that as we take a look tonight at the books that we call the poetical books of the Old Testament the result will be for us a greater appreciation of the breadth and depth of your word. Especially as we think about wisdom literature and what that is and how wisdom is a concept so distorted in our own day, may we have some ammunition with which to help people think in a more Christ-like manner in a more biblical way. We ask for his sake, that of our Savior Christ, Amen.
Any questions before we begin, of course not.
I. Ten Types
This is a little overview of the ten types of Psalms. In several ways this is repetitious. If you looked very carefully at our textbook, How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth and read the section on the Psalms, "Our Words to God and God's Words To Us," you know that these categories will be useful, but one of the things that every learning theorist says is that if you can say it again a different way sometimes it really clicks and I, therefore, will say some things that are genuinely repetitious but I hope, nevertheless, helpful.
A. First of all, almost half of the Psalms, about seventy depending on how you count them, are in the category of the Lament. The reason I say that it depends on how you count them is this--a number of Psalms are of mixed type. You can have a Psalm that is a Royal Psalm and a Lament, being a Royal Lament and you can have a Psalm that can be in a category of a Zion Psalm but it can also fit in a Lament category. There are a number of possibilities here. But almost half the Psalms are in a category called Lament. This terminology, Lament, has been around really for centuries. It is an old terminology and this is the term that you will most often find employed. What is a Lament? It is a psalm that you pray to God when you are in some way unhappy. In the psalm you ask for relief, for deliverance, for rescue, for help. Because you do not want to have your unhappiness be worse than that of the psalmist, God has well taken care of that in advance. Let me explain this. If you turned to the Psalms for encouragement and for help and the worst thing that had happened to the psalmist was that he had lost an ox, but your problem was you were dying of cancer. You might say, "Does God really understand? Does he really appreciate the way I'm suffering and what I'm facing and the hopelessness of my situation from a human point of view? Does he appreciate my pain? Does he appreciate my agony? Does he appreciate the sense of hopelessness that I tend to feel?" What we observe in the Laments is this:
1. There are basically four types of miseries that they describe.
a. By far the most frequent is being about to be killed by your enemies. Enemies are just about to get you. They are surrounding you. They are laughing at you. They are saying, "No hope for him." They have got their weapons drawn and you are hopeless. You are one lone person and all these enemies hate you and want to kill you. It is a pretty serious scene, not something to be contemplated lightly. That is the most common.
b. The next most common is facing death in general. Somehow you are dying, your strength is melting away, you are horribly sick, and something is happening to you. It is usually never expressed in gentle terms. "O Lord, I have the flu real bad this weekend," is not what you get in the Psalter.
c. You also get confinement. "I'm trapped. I'm up to my neck in a miry pit. I'm deep in the clay."
d. Then finally you also get drowning, some kind of drowning imagery which is really very comparable to confinement though it is not exactly the same. You have several psalms where a certain amount of drowning imagery is there.
Some psalms mix all four, some psalms mix a couple, there can be any number of ways this happens. Sometimes it is a very rapid shift, "My enemies are all around me oh Lord, I'm sinking down deep in the depths of the sea . . .," you just go from one verse to another.
2. Because in virtually all the seventy, there is no other category except these where your enemies are about to kill you, you are sick unto death, you are confined and trapped and you cannot get out or you are drowning. People have said this appears to be what we would call in modern literature "stereotyped language." What do we mean by stereotyped language? We mean language that is purposely worded so as to be standardized. Why would you standardize it? So that it can have maximum applicability. I would suggest to you that the real invitation that is made by these psalms is not to say, "Well now wait a minute, if I'm not either dying or surrounded by enemies or trapped or drowning then this does not help me." Instead say, "That's the ancient world's way of saying, 'fill in the blank.'" I am absolutely convinced, this is not my theory, it is a general theory, but I commend it to you as being very convincing. When you really look at all of these Laments and how they describe the suffering that the person is in with this standardized or stereotyped language, the vast majority about eighty percent enemies. You realize enemies is kind of a substitute for problems. What is your problem? In the psalm it gets visualized as a bunch of enemies. Maybe it is a constellation of problems. Maybe many things are bothering you, many hardships and trials of this and that plus this and that over here. The psalm, in effect, says, "You think of your problems while you talk about enemies surrounding you, overwhelming you, laughing at you, giving you no hope and you will get it." I think instinctively people generally have. I will bet many of you can identify with the fact that when you read a psalm it is not talking about your particular problem. It could be financial; there are not any financial psalms. There is some that talk about, "I'm poor," but usually it is in terms of being without resources not so much financially bad off. It can be family problems but psalms do not talk about family problems. They do not name any particular illnesses and so on. People still can identify. They still sense that because the psalmist is saying, "I can't live, I can't survive, I can't do anything about these problems, they are greater than I can cope with. Dear God, help me, help me, I'm in trouble," that anything from a true life-threatening situation to the fact that the dentist is making you wait longer than you would like is encompassed. In other words you cannot out-misery the psalmists. It is a very fine thing. I believe when you teach the psalms and preach on them it is just a great idea to let people know that here in this verse where it says such and such, that is for them to fill in and to suggest, "Is it a serious illness? Is it a regret? Is it something that you cannot deal with because the person you offended is now gone or the person who abused you is long gone and you are left with the agony of that abuse?" or whatever it may be. The psalms invite you to give it to God through prayer. In that way we say that the psalms are both God's Word to us, as all of Scripture is, but also our words to God. I think also the psalms, in general, are not intended to be only what we pray but they are intended to be leadoff material for our prayers. Many people find that if they will read a psalm or two it will help them to focus their minds in such a way that following that they then pray in their own words to the Lord. So using Psalm as introductory to a prayer meeting at a church, for example, is excellent. To use the Psalm as an introduction to prayers in a worship service is a wonderful device. But to use it personally is also very effective.
3. Having said that I still want to focus on some details here in this concept of the Lament. It turns out that these psalms are not just stereotyped or standardized as to their language but also to a considerable degree, some of them at least, as to their ingredients. This is the case with the Lament psalms. You saw projected there the little acrostic ACTDAP. I suppose there is some fancier acrostic than ACTDAP but this is the one that I think most people can get and helps them.
a. What we mean by this is, first, address. These psalms have in them an address, that is, who are they directed to? You are not praying just generally and you are not praying to some sort of cosmic noodle soup, you are praying to the Lord, the one true God who exists. There is always some element, "O Lord, O My God," or whatever.
b. Then what is called the complaint is found. The complaint is just a term for whatever your suffering is. Again, they are stereotyped by the four categories that we have talked about. All the complaints are in one of those four categories.
c. Then, interestingly, an expression of trust. The psalm is not just asking the psalm is also praising. The psalm says, "I know I can trust you." Very often it refers in some way to a past experience or many past experiences. From the person's experience he or she knows that God is trustworthy.
d. Then there is a deliverance plea. That is where you ask, "Help me." It is just that simple. "Rescue me, O Lord. Save me." Sometimes the deliverance plea is in the form of "take care of my problems, smash my enemies, destroy my enemies." It is a way of saying, "God, get rid of these problems, I can't handle them." It has that kind of a force.
e. Then there is also an element of assurance. Trust and assurance are very closely related. In some psalms, it is actually hard to tell whether you have got all trust, all assurance or some of each. Generally what we mean by this is the trust sections tend to speak about the fact that you have learned to trust and the assurance section tends to be that you will be delivered. That tends to be the division. The trust section--I know I can trust God because He has shown Himself trustworthy in the past. The assurance section--I know I am going to get out of this because of God's kindness and goodness.
f. Finally, praise. God is praised in some way for his goodness, his strength, his ability, his faithfulness, whatever it might be. Sometimes certain elements of the trust and assurance come in there as well. If you think about it, you have three elements that may be regarded as asking. The address to God, "God, God, I'm calling on you." The complaint, "Here is my problem, I'm surrounded by enemies and they are laughing at me." The deliverance plea, "Please, I need your help." Three ways in which you are asking, but there are three ways in which you are giving. You are giving a statement of trust to God, which is testimony. You are giving a statement of assurance about God, which also is testimony or witness to him as part as praise, then openly you are giving praise as well. You could argue that there are three giving elements. Thus, the Lament psalms, though they are quite obviously geared to asking for help in time of need whatever it may be, whatever the need is, they also do not forget to praise God, to honor him, to give him the praise that he is due. We should be praising God, in effect, this is what a Lament psalm is saying. The structure of these seventy says, "Don't forget, when you ask God also to honor Him with your praise." Jesus does this in the Lord's Prayer, "Our Father who is in heaven, hallowed be your name," but then the request, "Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us daily bread. Forgive us our debts," and then, "For thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory." You have praise elements as well as requests elements. We should always think of prayer as something that is respectful, that honors God, that recognizes his greatness, and that reminds us; we should remind ourselves in our prayers of where we stand in the universe. It is a good, healthy thing to realize that in this big universe you are very small. That is a good thing. That is not bad, it is good, it is healthy. But, at the same time, to recognize that to God you are terrifically special. It is a wonderful balance. It is a great thing for any youth worker, any Christian education teacher, any pastor, any missionary, to help people to realize, "Yes, we are very small in this universe. We are not big shots, this is a big universe and we're just individuals. But to God, we are each enormously special." That is a great kind of balance for people to get. It puts a lot of things in perspective. Finally, note that these elements may be present in different ratios and in different orders. You might get a PADCAT psalm or a TACDAP. Anything is possible. You also get repetitions of some of the elements. So you might get a CATACATPADAPADA . . . . A lot of the elements keep surging back in, it depends on the length of the psalm. This is the most common kind and wonderful to appreciate. As I noted, if you look at a psalm like Psalm 3 or one like 12 or one like 22, which is also a royal psalm, you will see that those Laments have this kind of ingredient composition and often enough this exact structure, actdap, but not always.
4. A couple of final notes--these can be individual, a person praying or they can be corporate. The nation crying out to God. Did some individual compose it on behalf of the nation? Sure. But a group can cry out, a church can ask for help, a Bible study group, a family. There are a lot of possibilities for corporate Laments as well.
a. I mentioned penitential psalms, that is just a subcategory in which the misery you are in is still generally described as one of the four, but the reason you are in it becomes clear also. That is a little ingredient that was worked in, it is because you have offended God. Your guilt and your sense of distance from God is added to the mix in the case of those that are penitential and there is a strong emphasis on their deliverance plea being a plea for forgiveness and restoration. If that is really what the trouble is, in which you can tell it never is specific but it is always general, you somehow have offended God, then what you are asking for by way of deliverance is forgiveness.
b. The imprecatory psalms are subcategories of the Laments. Let's take a look at Psalm 3. Psalm 3 happens to be an imprecatory psalm. If you look at verse 7, here is the deliverance plea, "Arise, O Lord, deliver me my God, strike all my enemies on the jaw, break the teeth of the wicked." Many people will say, "Oh, good grief, look at that language." Here we have a request of God to hurt people and be mean to them and cruel and maim them. I argue to you that since these enemies, really would come in quotes in effect, that so do the imprecations. The imprecation is in effect saying, "Deliver me from my problems. Get rid of my problems, smash my problems, destroy them." That is the nature of virtually all imprecations. There is one exception and that is in Psalm 137 where the imprecation is in a corporate Lament against the Babylonians as a whole in which the psalmist on behalf of all the people is asking God to do to the Babylonians what they have been doing to everybody else. That is sort of a comeuppance thing. "They are doing all these evil things; you do them back to the Babylonians, O Lord." Generally speaking the imprecations are all subcategories of Laments. It is in the deliverance plea portion of the Lament that you get the imprecation and they are virtually always subcategories of the enemy metaphor, I would say.
B. Thanksgiving psalms, by contrast, are prayed when you are out of the misery. If God has delivered you that is not the point at which to say, "Well, I prayed for it and it came, so what is the issue?" No, of course you want then to be grateful to God. Whether things are going poorly as in the case of the Lament or whether things are now going wonderfully and you are delighted, you ought always to be praying to God and telling him about your current situation and mindset and so on. Does he understand it before you pray? Sure. But does he love to hear it? Yes, and therefore it is a wonderful thing to do and very appropriate. In this case if you wish that you may remember the little acrostic IMART this way. Imagine that you were heading for Kmart but a couple of stores earlier you saw Imart and said, "I am going to check there and see if they have the kind of toaster that I want." Sure enough they do and it is cheaper than the advertised price at Kmart. You say, "That is wonderful. I am so grateful that I stopped at Imart." If it works fine, if it does not use something else. The ingredients happen to line up this way.
a. You have some kind of an introduction or intension to praise. It often is a statement like, "Let's praise," or "Praise the Lord," but some kind of introduction often implies the intention to praise.
b. Then the misery that you were in is described. Remember it is past misery, you are out when you are praying a thanksgiving psalm, you are out of the misery.
c. Then the appeal that you gave is described in some way. Now it is in the past so you will read, "I prayed to the Lord and . . ." that is how it will be worded.
d. Then the rescue is described.
e. Finally, there is a testimonial. Is the testimonial close to praise? Sure. Some of these it is almost the same as what you would find in the praise portion of the Lament psalm but usually it has some kind of a twist to it, some kind of a "I will declare your name among the people, O Lord." Some kind of a vow or a promise that you will continue to let people know about God's goodness. You will not just selfishly keep it to yourself. Because God deserves praise and it is appropriate that he be praised whether in Lament or in thanksgiving but certainly in thanksgiving. That is the testimonial angle. Introduction, Misery, Appeal, Rescue, Testimonial. There are many fewer of these but there are around eighteen or so of them depending on how you count them.
2. They may also be individual and some of the royal psalms are in this category. They may also be corporate and some hymns also are pretty much sharing the concept of the thanksgiving psalm and the hymn at the same time.
C. A third category, certainly very common, are hymns. Here we use the outline SRR. Very simple.
a. First of all you have a summons. The summons may be something like, "Praise the Lord," or "Let us praise the Lord," or "Let all God's people praise him."
b. Then you have reasons given to praise God.
c. And then some kind of recapitulation. Some kind of a restatement. As an example you can look at many of the later psalms and see that pattern. Look at Psalm 149, for example. It starts by saying, "Praise the Lord," that is the summons. It ends by the statement, "Praise the Lord," that is the recap. In the middle are all the reasons. I will talk about the reasons why this should happen in just a moment. The reasons fit into a set of categories that can pretty well be found in almost all hymns. Some of them will be found in combination; sometimes you will have all three. But when there is only one or when one predominates the types are creator hymns, Israel hymns and history hymns.
2. What do we mean by a creator hymn? This is where the reason section, the big heart of the psalm, not the summons, not the recap, which are usually both brief, but the heart of the psalm is going to concentrate on the fact that God is to be praised because of the wonderful way he created everything. You will see a lot of creation language. Bear in mind that creation does not stop with Genesis. In the Bible creation is very much an ongoing process. The new creation themes of the New Testament are just following the Old Testament. The new creation language of the Book of Revelation is all part of what we are in on. We are early in on the new creation if we have accepted Christ, but we are like people seeing the first day in the book of Genesis; there is more new creation to come and it is going to wonderful and a lot of it is going to be happening with great transformation of the heavens and the earth and so on. When John says I saw a new heaven and a new earth he is using new creation language. The Bible is talking about creation as an ongoing process right into the new creation, the old creation being temporary on purpose. Creator hymns will not just talk about, "Isn't it nice that you made mountains, O Lord. Thank you for the mountains, we appreciate the mountains. Now the trees, oh we like trees." No, it is much richer than that. Bear that in mind.
3. Israel hymns will talk generally about how wonderful it is that God has a people. Anything he has done for his people over the time, anything that makes them special as a people, the way he has given his focus to one group. It is part of the theme of the people of God that also is a huge scriptural issue. We are Israel; anybody who is in Christ is that. Paul says in Galatians 3:29, "If you are in Christ, you are Abraham's seed and heirs according to the promise." So we are all by adoption Israelites. We have that identity, we think of ourselves that way, we ought to. Thus Israel hymns are something to identify with as part of our own spiritual history.
4. Then history hymns per say. Is part of the history what happened to Israel? Sure. So there can often be a blending and an overlap between history hymns and Israel hymns as you might expect. Often the history hymns will just especially go through a long sequence. "God did this and then he brought his people to Mount Sinai and then he led them through the wilderness and then he brought them into the promised land and planted them and . . . ." It will tend to give quite a review of centuries of God's faithfulness over time. The emphasis is on that review. Again, this is an extremely important theme. Many religions of the world have almost no historical emphasis. The average Muslim worships God primarily by reciting the first chapter of the Quran five times a day. They just memorize it. It is in Arabic too, you have to pray in Arabic. God understands Arabic, but other languages he is thin on so you have to have your prayers in Arabic or you are not a good Muslim. Five times a day you recite, usually, just one part of the first chapter of the Quran that you have memorized. That's it. The Quran has very little of a historical basis. That is just one religion that is essentially ahistorical. The Bible, on the other hand, is telling this great, long story. "It started here and it kept going here and there were these people and these people and these people . . . . Look at the things that happened to them and look at these predictions and so on. Very strong historical emphasis. It is part of what is special about our faith. Our faith is a history-based faith. Our biggest proof of our Savior is something that happened two thousand years ago that we are still absolutely thrilled by and we have no reason to be bothered that it happened two thousand years ago. It did not have to happen after the Eisenhower administration to have terrific impact in our lives. It is just fine that it happened two thousand years ago. We are very historically oriented in what we believe and what we live by and what we proclaim is very much historical too. These psalms fit into that pattern as well.
D. Enthronement psalms, as you might guess, emphasize the way God is king. Now note that I did not give an outline for them. I did not give a list of ingredients. That is because the enthronement psalms really are not characterized by a structure as much as by their vocabulary. So they could have a great variety of structures but there will always be something about, "O Lord, you are enthroned over the universe," or "You're enthroned on the praises of your people," or "Lord, your throne sits in the heavens . . . ." Always that way of saying that God is king.
E. It is an important reminder because there are also royal psalms. What do these psalms do? The answer is they do what Romans 13 does in the New Testament; they praise God for human government. These psalms talk about how good it is to have a king. You know if you read the book of Judges and you followed the arguments there, implicitly always being made, there is no open, logical argument, there is just the statement, "There was no king in those days," you see how important the kingship is. You see the kingship even though it comes with Saul, imperfect as he is and imperfect as David and Solomon are there is still something there of how good God can be, how protective he can be, how beneficial he can be for his people via a king. These royal psalms basically say, "God preserve our king, bless our king, encourage our king." Now an additional factor. In biblical theology every office holder of an important office in the Old Testament is, in a certain sense, priming you, preparing you to conceptually be ready for a comparable office holder in the New Testament. What office holders are there in the New Testament? Of course there are apostles and there are prophets and there are teachers and so on but the great office holder is Christ himself. Many of you have heard the expression that Christ is prophet, priest, and king, because he is. He functions as a prophet, he is a preacher of the Word of God, in fact he is generating his own truth. He is also a priest in that he brings us to God. That is the job of a priest, represent the people to God and finally he is king and will be king forever over all things. This is what God has decided to do through his Son. Prophecy, we will talk more about as time goes by and the priesthood, some bits more. Kingship, this comes up right here in the psalms. It turns out that the royal psalms as they talk about the king and the things God can do for a king and the concerns for a king, etc., have in them much language that also points to the ultimate king. Sometimes they have in them even language that does not appear to be very relevant to any earthly king, any actual human king. Some of the psalms talk about, like Psalm 110, which is a royal psalm, "I've made you a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek." Melchizedek was a priest who was a king or a king who was a priest. You can read the story back in Genesis 14. You say, "What sense does that make? What Israelite would ever have been made a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek? It seems to be about a king and so on." That is the kind of thing that sometimes is in these royal psalms. Language that does not seem appropriate in its own day, but that has enormous applicability once you see the person of Christ, who, like Melchizedek, is not of the tribe of Levi, not of the descendency of Aaron but, in fact, kind of comes out of the blue, and yet, is the greatest of all priests because Abraham, the greatest of the patriarchs, gives him tithes and shows his worship of him and his allegiance to and support of him. I should qualify what I mean by worship. Abraham honors him, in that sense worship. I do not mean that Abraham thought of Melchizedek the man as a god. Please understand that. Royal psalms can also be Messianic, predictive of Christ and many of them are.
F. Zion psalms have often a hymn format, the SRR format. Their special focus is on God's presence among his people, which is a great theme of Scripture. In the case of Zion that is the mountain that Jerusalem is built on and the temple is at the top of Mount Zion. Very clearly once Solomon builds it there God has chosen for his name to dwell, he is chosen to symbolize his presence among his people and when you are praising Zion, you are praising the fact that God was so good to be among us, helping us, protecting us, guiding us, allowing us to have a sense of his presence even though it is nowhere near the full presence that one day we will have in heaven. That's a great thing.
G. Wisdom psalms do have a kind of a format.
1. It is very simple, it is X or Y.
2. What is wisdom? I want to introduce it now and then we will talk about it when we get to Proverbs and the rest of the books that we look at tonight. Wisdom has nothing to do with I.Q. There is no correlation whatever in the Bible between wisdom and a high I.Q. You can have 170 I.Q. and it does not have anything to do with wisdom. It has no correlation with formal education either. You can have a Ph.D. and use big words but you do not necessarily have any more wisdom. Nothing to do with schooling, nothing to do with academic skill per say, nothing to do with I.Q. or intelligence as we usually know it. So what is it? The answer is it is a word that is not quite translated as cleanly as we would like. The word that has been used in the English language to translate a certain Hebrew word which is pronounced this way -- ˙okmah, that dot under the h is for a hard kind of h, ˙okmah. That word really means the ability to make right choices. That is really the meaning of it. That is the concept. Yet, you want in English a single word for a single Hebrew word. This is always a dream, a desire, of all translation. Get a word in the receptor language, the target language, that is equivalent for a single word in the language from which you are translating. Long ago people chose the English word "wisdom" for the Hebrew word ˙okmah.
3. It is always talking about two ways. Some people have even used the term, "two ways literature." Wisdom literature is two ways literature. Always there is the good choice and then by contrast the bad choice. Wisdom psalms are going to emphasize the good as opposed to the bad. Psalm 1 happens to be a wisdom psalm. It is also a Torah psalm, one of the categories we will get to at the end, but it happens to be a wisdom psalm. It is talking about choices. "Blessed is the person who doesn't walk in the counsel of the wicked, stand in the way of sinners, sit in the seat of mockers." Do not do that, that is a bad choice. But, by contrast, there is the X now comes the Y, "His delight is in the law of the Lord and on his statutes he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of waters, yields its fruit in season," all kinds of good things. Then back to the other alternative, verse 4, "Not so the wicked. They're like chaff the wind blows away. The wicked won't stand in the judgment, sinners in the assembly of the righteous, but" back in contrast again, "the Lord watches over the way of the righteous, but" back again in contrast, "the way of the wicked will perish." In a wisdom psalm you are always going back and forth. It is almost like watching a tennis match. This is bad, that is good, this is bad, that is good; back and forth, back and forth. This is very effective. It actually is a very effective way of giving people basic ethical guidance. Wisdom has this function. It is to teach the difference between what is a wrong direction to take and what is a right direction to take. It means, of course, there are absolutes. You know we live in a day in which large numbers of people do not think so. Tolerance is god. Everything is to be tolerated. Nothing is right or wrong; it is just a question of whether it is right for you. Many people do not believe in any absolute truth. The biblical notion of wisdom, on the other hand, counters that and if you want to help counter it just introduce wisdom literature to people and steep them in it and it will help overcome the nonsense of the notion that there is no absolute truth, because wisdom literature says, "This is wrong, this is right and which are you going to choose." It is always offering the paths of choice. In life we make choices constantly. You are all choosing what to write down every minute that I am talking. You are making choices constantly. You get up in the morning and you decide how long to brush your teeth or whether or not to brush your teeth--I hope you do not decide not to brush your teeth, and which clothes to wear, you decide what to say to people, you decide where to park. Many of the decisions are small but life is just full of choices and wisdom literature recognizes this. It says, "Don't be so naïve as to think that you are not also making moral choices; you are." We will get to some of the characteristics of wisdom and what the Bible says about them and much more than just wisdom psalms. But there are a number of wisdom psalms. They are really very helpful. They are part of the wisdom tradition that we will see in other ways manifested tonight.
H. Trust psalms are a subcategory of Laments. Remember that in the Lament you had actdap and the T stood for trust. The trust psalms basically yank that T out and say, "We are going to put a whole psalm together just emphasizing the kind of thing that you find in the trust language of a Lament psalm." Parade example, the 23rd Psalm. What do you have in the 23rd Psalm? You first have a description of a sheep that is well cared for by God, the Lord, who is a good shepherd. That goes through the end of verse 4 if you want to look at it. "The Lord is my shepherd . . . I'm in green pastures . . . quiet waters . . . restores my soul . . . always with me . . . I can go through the dangerous valley like the valley of the shadow of death and not be afraid . . . you have got your rod and your staff, they give me comfort . . .," God is the protective good, caring shepherd. Then the metaphor shifts and the shepherd, sheep thing is gone with the last two verses and now you are at God's house. Now the metaphor is that of God as host. This is typical, by the way, of the way Hebrew literature works in general. Rapid, unannounced metaphor shift just happens. Be aware of that. This kind of switch is normal. They expected it, they were used to it, they liked it. "You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies," it can actually be understood over against my enemies, that is they cannot touch me, "You anoint my head with oil, cup overflows. I love this, it is great, I have got goodness and mercy. I'm going to stay here forever; I like it here. Can I stay?" Here is God as the good and wonderful and protective host. It is a trust psalm. It is a subcategory of the trust portion of the Lament psalms. Wonderful, therefore, for encouraging trust. You make a hospital visit, a trust psalm is dynamite for someone who has got serious surgery in the morning. It might be just the right one to use. All of these psalms have their appropriate usage. At a wedding, you probably don't want to pray a Lament. "O Lord deliver me, my foes are many, conflicts arises, I'm weak as water and . . . ," you do not want that. Something on the order of a hymn or a thanksgiving psalm or a trust psalm wound be wonderful. Sometimes people when they are afraid and frightened need something other than a Lament but other times you can explain, "I'm going to read what is called a Lament psalm." I have gone into hospitals many times and said, "Let me read you what is called a Lament psalm. You will hear in it the cry for help but you will also hear the assurance that help is coming." When you do that, just that little introduction, people relax and they hear this thing about, "O Lord, I'm sinking, I'm dying, I'm near death," or whatever and they do not get panicky and say, "Why did he pick this one for?" Lament psalms or trust psalms can be very, very effective as long as you explain what they are. People do often need to know that.
I. Liturgies is somewhat a catch-all. It is because there is some hard-to-categorize psalms. The term liturgy, which means "words said in worship" is very nice. You have to watch that. But these liturgies do, some of them at least, seem like they might have been general, nonspecific, but general types of psalms that were used to remind a worshipping audience of God's characteristics and their purpose in worshipping him. More than that you cannot say. Liturgy is the weakest, thinnest category in terms of its applicability.
J. Then finally, Torah psalms. There are really two big Torah psalms. There are some other psalms that have some Torah overtones but since Psalm 119 is so huge, equivalent to about twenty typical psalms, it is a pretty important category. Just the weight of Psalm 119 in its massive contribution to the Psalter. Psalm 1 though is a good one to look at in terms of the speed with which we could look at it. Note that it said, "Don't be bad walking in the way of sinners . . . ," but then it says, "However, the wise person, the blessed person, delights in the law of the Lord and on his law he meditates day and night." That is what produces it. The law is a synecdoche. That is a term I do not know if we have used or not yet. But it is a synecdoche for the word of God in general. Synecdoche simply means a part for the whole as when you say, "You got wheels?" meaning do you have a car or "Nice threads," meaning nice clothing. It is a part for the whole. So law is a part of the Word of God but it really tends to mean all of God's Word. When you find statements in the Psalter, "I delight to do your law, O God." That is really talking about, "I like to fulfill your word. It is a joy to know your word and to try to carry it out." There are the ten types.
II. Preaching the Psalms
Let me just try to encourage you with regard to preaching the Psalms. First of all if you are going to preach from the Psalms and you have got the ten types you have certainly got a ten-week sermon series, just picking one of each type. I would suggest that you would want to do more than that, maybe pick a few of the Laments and maybe a couple of the thanksgiving and certainly a couple of the hymns. But, at least, you have got a ten-week sermon series. If you are going to do a Bible study, at least a good ten-week series covering the different types and getting to know them and so on. Very useful. People love it when they learn these types. It does not ruin anything for them and enhances their appreciation of the way the Psalms work and help them pray and praise God. It is a wonderful thing. I just wanted to throw this out quickly, the Psalms contain rich, rich kinds of things. The Messianic psalms, mostly royal psalms, Christ's purposes. The themes of enduring hardship as you have those in the Laments. Facing death, which is included within, of course, the stereotyped or standardized miseries or complaints which talk about facing death, facing discomfort, facing discouragement, facing disease. Fellowship with God or peace with God as you would have them in several types of psalms. Fitting into creation--a lot of people never even think about the fact there is new creation coming and you ought to get into it; if you miss it you have missed something big. That is what God's kingdom leads you to. All the citizens of God's kingdom are in the new creation. That is a great theme of the New Testament. I could go down through all of these and talk about them. It is a tremendous set of themes to preach and teach from and people will resonate with these. You can say, "I would like to talk from the Psalms today about how to pray. I could talk from the Psalms about priorities in life." There the wisdom psalms would give that. "I would like to talk from the Psalms about understanding history." The history psalms will be a dynamite basis for giving people a feel for the way that God is a historical worker, a controller of history and that history is ultimately working to the purposes of God's people. It is a great thing to get.
III. "Historicizing Statements"
Then finally, as promised, some questions really do arise about whether the "Historicizing Statements" in the superscriptions of the Psalms are to be believed. If you look back at Psalm 3 in your Bible, notice that the statement, "A psalm of David when he fled from his son Absalom" is not in the same font as the rest of the psalm. It is in much finer print. Notice also that it does not get a verse number. Those are two decisions made historically because you could give it a verse number. There is nothing in the law that says you cannot give it a verse number. The superscriptions in the Septuagint tradition, the Latin tradition, English tradition and so on have been demoted purposely, that is a very purposeful thing, to give them no verse number and to give them a smaller print. It is because of the suspicion generated by data like this. Here's the deal. Here are just some examples that help show the variation.
A. Psalm 33
1. MT means the Masoretic Text, that is, the particular Hebrew that we read everything from. It does not have a superscription; there is just nothing there. Since we get our NIV translations, and so on, from that you will see that there is nothing there in the English as you read it.
2. The Septuagint, the Greek Old Testament says, tø Dauid, belonging to David; it is a Psalm of David."
3. The Vulgate, that is the Latin says, Psalmos David, a Psalm Of David.
4. There is nothing in the Syriac.
5. But the Peshitta, which is the popular Syriac version says, "A prophecy concerning the victory of the people in the days of Hezekiah . . . ." That is a typical example of the very strong historicizing tendency that you find going on in the ancient world. It tells you that there was this victory in the days of Hezekiah and how they trusted and sang praise to God because of their salvation. Somebody made that up would be the point I would suggest to you.
B. Or look at Psalm 67.
1. Again, nothing there in the Masoretic Text.
2. The Septuagint has in most of its versions; there are a lot of manuscripts, of course, "Of David."
3. Vulgate same thing.
4. Likewise the Sahidic, which is a Coptic Old Testament, just has "Of David."
Is this a big deal? No, not a big deal.
C. Psalm 131
1. We had a question about Psalms of Ascents. Here is one where we get "Song of Ascents Of David."
2. And here is one that says just "Song of Ascents" and does not attribute it to David. Even the authorship of some of these is questionable.
D. Here is a jazzy one, Psalm 137.
1. Nothing in the Masoretic Text.
2. The Septuagint said it is Davidic.
3. The Septuagint Lucianic says, "Of David, from Jeremiah."
4. The Vulgate, the Latin says the same thing.
5. The Old Syriac has nothing.
6. The Peshitta has a "Prophecy concerning the people who are in Babylon and how they await their harm and trouble," and so on.
These are samples. We could spend a lot of exciting time tonight talking about superscription variation in the Psalter but suffice it to say I have just showed you the tip of the iceberg in terms of how problematic it is to trust in those. That is what leads me to say we should be real cautious on these historicizing notes. I think you will find that a majority of scholars will advise you the same way; not all, many take it very seriously. I think it should be taken with great caution. That would be my answer to the question.