Lecture 19: Psalm 73 and Psalm 15
Course: Psalms by Dr. Bruce Waltke
Lecture 19: Psalm 73 and Psalm 15
I. Function of the Cultus
A. Symbolism that Reveals God
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.
1. A Latter of Faith
Martin L Jones likens Psalm 73 to a latter of faith, consisting of seven steps to walk up to attain that level of faith. The turning points come when he enters into the temple. I assume he sees these symbolisms of God that restores his faith. Logically speaking his first step down is in verse 3 when he says I saw the prosperity of the wicked. In other words he began his view of life with a ‘key-hole’ theory. He was determining reality with what he could see within the limited horizon of his own experience. What he sees in verses 4 and 5 is the prosperity of the wicked and in verses 6 – 8 he sees that they are ungodly as they scoff and speak with malice and loftily they threaten oppression. They are without God for all practical purposes. Their mouths lay claim to heaven and their tongues struts through the earth. So they live without God. He summarizes this in verse 12 saying this is what the wicked are like. His mistake is that he was defining God by his problem rather than allowing God to define his problem. If you start with the problem you may conclude that God doesn’t exist or if he does exist, he is not necessarily good or just. This is the first step down and away from God in defining God by his problem. His second step down and away from God is when he made their prosperity their god and was envying them. It is not wrong to be perplexed. It is normal in Christian experience to be perplexed as Paul makes this clear in 2nd Corinthians 4:6 in the apostolic community. ‘For God, who said let light shine out of darkness, has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belong to God and not to us. We are afflicted in this very way, but not crushed - perplexed, but not driven to despair.’ We should not envy those who are rich as it shows that we are no longer content with God and trust him. Another step down, he almost stepped out of the realm of faith in trusting God.
2. Seven Steps Back to God
In the seven steps back to God, he couldn’t live with a philosophy that God rewards evil and punishes good. He could not teach this. Either God is good and allows suffering or God is not good. His heart would not allow teaching that said God was not good. He was troubles by all this; it troubled him deeply. He went to the sanctuary to meet God in this crisis. The problem with those who give up on God in a crisis, they never allow God to solve their problem and meet them and help them through the crisis. In entering the sanctuary, he saw the symbols of God’s holiness, of his mercy and his everlasting life and final victory. Those symbols of God spoke deeply to him and that is why they are in Scripture, when we see the trues of God in the death and resurrection of Jesus, those symbols enable us to stand and understand the wicked and their final destiny. When he was looking at material things, he was no more than an animal, a brute and a beast that was senseless and ignorant. In verses 23 and 24 he recognizes that the Lord has taken him by his right hand and leads him to glory, ‘I am continually with you; you hold my right hand. You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will take me into glory.’ He realizes that through his sufferings that God has taken him by his hand and actually given him strength and has led him to the point of glory; just as he took Christ by the hand through the wilderness and all the temptations and tested him, preparing him for his final victories. He took Israel through the wilderness; he took David through the wilderness of his life and being rejected by Saul, learning to live by faith. He takes us by the right hand and leads us through our crisis in order to strengthen us and lead us to the final glory in his presence. He acknowledges that there is nothing on earth that he desires beside God; in other words, I have God. And thus, it is Jesus that makes heaven to be heaven and that is the beauty of heaven. It is Christ himself. What would we prefer; the temporal riches of those around us or God and the eternity he represents? This psalm symbolizes eternal trues.
B. Visible Forms to Portray Reality
The Psalms are typical of the cultus; it is a divinely intended visible form to portray the eternal reality and what will become real and actual in the future. In other words, here we have in heaven the eternal reality. It is spiritual and so I don’t think we can fully understand it. Yet, it is a reality, an eternity. It is something that is and what is: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit who was and is and will be forever. And the temple portrayed that reality; it was a copy of heaven and at the heart of it was God’s transcendence and ethical will as we were describing the temple. And on a synchronic level, it is a type in that sense of heaven in which we can imagine heaven and understand it. But on the diachronic level it is not only an example and picture and copy of heaven, but it is a type of the greater to come. And so the temple is a symbol of the presence of God and is a type of Christ in whom God dwells in all of his fullness. It is a type of the church which is the temple of God; his holiness and eternal light, his presence, his sacraments. It is a type that finds it fulfilment in Christ and the church. But there is more, there is still the consummation; when we come to the heavenly reality itself, when we come to the risen Christ with his spiritual body and we will are in new resurrected spiritual bodies, we will actually be in a reality that is beyond words to repress. So this is the function of the cultus; it represents a type of what is to come. This is the second function of the cultus.
C. Sacramental and Artistry
The third function is sacramental. By these physical realities and spiritual words, you actually enter into communion with God as the priests would eat the bread and offer up the sacrifice and find forgiveness; they would actually participate in the life and forgiveness of God. In addition to being symbolic and typical and being sacramental, it was also artistic. This is the fourth function. It promotes an idea, an ethology. It is like seeing the architecture of Washington D.C. for the first time, there is a sense of stableness, longevity and power. This is symbolism for freedom to be what you want to be. This is why the church built cathedrals; it spoke of the churches’ permanence, of its authority and that why the universities in the enlightenment tried by their grandiose architecture to replace the church with the secular state. If you go to the University of Washington and you go to their library, it looks exactly like a cathedral; it has triple arched recess doorways as you enter into it. It has stained glassed windows and statues of famous secular educated people. It was a new form of worship and thus the student sees that this is the new reality. This is the value of architecture as it speaks of reality. I think this is why we have the Songs of Zion; they tell you to come to Zion and see what God is doing. It is a way of communicating on another level besides words.
D. Psalm 48 – A Song of Zion
A song. A psalm of the Sons of Korah.
1 Great is the LORD, and most worthy of praise, in the city of our God, his holy mountain.
2 Beautiful in its loftiness, the joy of the whole earth, like the heights of Zaphon is Mount Zion, the city of the Great King.
3 God is in her citadels; he has shown himself to be her fortress.
4 When the kings joined forces, when they advanced together,
5 they saw her and were astounded; they fled in terror.
6 Trembling seized them there, pain like that of a woman in labor.
7 You destroyed them like ships of Tarshish shattered by an east wind.
8 As we have heard, so we have seen in the city of the LORD Almighty, in the city of our God: God makes her secure forever.
9 Within your temple, O God, we meditate on your unfailing love.
10 Like your name, O God, your praise reaches to the ends of the earth; your right hand is filled with righteousness.
11 Mount Zion rejoices, the villages of Judah are glad because of your judgments.
12 Walk about Zion, go around her, count her towers,
13 consider well her ramparts, view her citadels, that you may tell of them to the next generation.
14 For this God is our God for ever and ever; he will be our guide even to the end.
Verse 2, Beautiful in its loftiness, the joy of the whole earth, like the heights of Zaphon is Mount Zion, the city of the Great King. This also alludes to the Ugaritic texts as Zaphon being the mountain of Baal. It also refers to the north. It is like the sea referring to the west and the Negev refers to the south. What Zion was to Israel, Zaphon was to Canaanites who worshipped Baal. So he says, it is like the heights of Zaphon; this is Mount Zion. In the Ugaritic literature, Zaphon was also known as the city of the great king. So you have these Songs of Zion that celebrate the greatness of Zion. They invite you to come and look at these buildings which at that time spoke of God’s permanence and endurance and authority and strength.
II. General Aspects of the Cultus
We need to divide those aspects that were begun by Moses and those that were introduced with the temple. So, the aspects of the cultus first began with the Mosaic Tent and then were replaced with the Royal temple. Wherever the tabernacle was setup became a sacred site because that was where God was located. It was never stipulated to be one site. There were also sacred objects such as the ark, tent, vessels, ephod, the Urim and Thummin within his breastplate. There were also the sacred seasons such as the Passover, Pentecost, Kippur, Sukkoth, the New Year that occurs in connection with the barley harvest. The Sukkoth was connected to the pressing of the grapes and olives. There were sacred people such as the priests and Levites. Moses did all of this and he also provided for sacred offerings and sacrifices. David greatly expanded the cultus into opera, a staging, libretto and music that accompanies the Mosaic cultus. David became a Mozart and even a renaissance man. Now David located the sacred site at Jerusalem and the people were expanded to include the king and the prophets along with the Levites and priests. The House of Aaron and the Levites, now include the king along with the prophets. We will now hear the prophets speak especially in Psalm 50. We have the sacred site of the temple which replaced the tabernacle. There was the scared calendar made up of annual, weekly and daily acts of worship. This included the weekly Sabbath and the Sabbatical and feasts and sacred seasons also. There were critical times such as war or drought or plagues that would happen. We see this in 1st Kings 8:31-51 that there were seven different kinds of plagues. There were three different festival days and seasons of Passover, Pentecost and autumn with its complex festivals of Yon Kapoor, Day of Atonement, plus the New Year and fall festival. There was also the year of jubilee. So, all of this was normal and regular in the lives of the Hebrews.
There is some uncertainty how the ‘sage’ fitted into the temple worship. As we saw, there is wisdom material such as in Psalm 73. So how did this perform within the temple? I think the priest would have given this kind of instruction. They were the teachers for Israel. The teaching of the people could have part of the temple worship.
III. Aspects of the Cultus within the Psalter
Within the cultus/temple covenantal benevolences were mediated to the worshipper including forgiveness through sacrifice. Within the temple, all was sacred and set apart but outside the temple, it was profane. Within, it was eternal and infinite or without finite. Upon entering into the temple, you were entering into the presence of God; the place was perfection and without imperfection. We have the Songs of Zion which refer to Zion and the House of the Lord; the holy hill and sanctuary of God, the dwelling place of Zion. References includes Psalms 2:6, 3:4, 63:14, 74:3, 76:2, 49:1, 92:12-13, 100:4, 114:2, 116:18-19 and 118:19-20. As God chose the House of David, he chose Mt Zion. In pagan religions, a god is always related to a place or mountain and thus could not move from that place. But Israel’s God is transcendent, he met Israel on Mt Sinai and then he elected Mt Zion. Look now at Psalm 46:
A. Psalm 46 - Of the Sons of Korah; according to Alamoth; A song.
1 God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.
2 Therefore we will not fear, though the earth gives way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea,
3 though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging.
4 There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy place where the Most High dwells.
5 God is within her, she will not fall; God will help her at break of day.
6 Nations are in uproar, kingdoms fall; he lifts his voice, the earth melts.
7 The LORD Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress.
8 Come and see what the LORD has done, the desolations he has brought on the earth.
9 He makes wars cease to the ends of the earth. He breaks the bow and shatters the spear; he burns the shields with fire.
10 He says, "Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth."
11 The LORD Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress.
There are other Psalms that talk about the participation within the worship and who is qualified to enter into the House of the Lord such as Psalm 15 which is also known as David’s Ten Commandments.
B. Psalm 15 – A Psalm of David – David’s Ten Commandments
O LORD, who shall sojourn in your tent? Who shall dwell on your holy hill?
He wo walks blamelessly and does what is right and speaks truth in his heart;
Who does not slander with his tonue and does no evil to his neighbor, nor takes up a reproach against his friend;
In whose eyes a vile person is despised, but who honors those who fear the LORD; who swears to his own hurt and does not change;
Who does not put out his money at interest and does not take a bribe against the innocent. He who does these things shall never be moved.
In David’s day, he had built his own tent for the Ark, before Solomon built the temple. This is evidence of Davidic authorship is that his psalms speak of a tent. David gives three generalizations, three positive statements. He says that the one whose walk is with a total commitment to God. This is not sinless but it means a wholehearted commitment to God who does what is righteous. He serves the community and speaks the truth from their heart. There is no hypocrisy and then ti says whose tongue utters no slander and who does no wrong to a neighbor and casts no slur on others. So you have three positives and three negatives. The seventh and critical pertains to our relationship with God. So he shows that he fears the Lord by identifying with those. But the crowd of adulterers and criminals are rejected. The eighth one says that he keeps an oath even when it hurts and doesn’t change his mind. For example, a person who keeps their marriage vows and agreements, but there is the atonement, the forgiveness of God; we must denounce all forms of evil that violate the Ten Commandments. Note also that ten symbolizes fullness. He includes those who lend money with interest and bribes as being evil. This psalm shows who can participate in the worship at the temple. Remember I said that there are covenant structures; you just don’t barge in or assume that you can enter into the presence of God. And if you keep David’s Ten Commandments, you would also be keeping Moses Ten Commandments.
C. Sacred Seasons, Actions, Processions and Pilgrimages
1. Sacred Seasons
There are references to the sacred seasons; for example there is a reference to the Sabbath in Psalm 92 and then in Psalm 81 there is a reference to the new moon. Then many of the Psalms were recited at the morning and evening sacrifices. Psalm 3 is a morning prayer while Psalm 4 is an even prayer. Psalm 5 is also a morning prayer along with Psalm 6 being an evening prayer. These psalms were used in conjunction with the morning and evening sacrifices. In 1st Chronicles 16:8-22, it tells us that he appointed some of the Levites as ministers before the ark of the LORD, to invoke, to thank, and to praise the LORD, the God of Israel. Asaph was the chief, and second to him were Zechariah, Jeiel, Shemimoth, Jehiel, Mattithiah, Eliab, Benaiah, Obed-edom, and Jeiel, who were to play harps and lyres; Asaph was to sound the cymbals, and Benaiah and Jahaziel and the priest were to blow trumpets regularly before the Ark of the Covenant of God. Then on that day David first appointed that thanksgiving be sung to the LORD by Asaph and his brothers. This was to be done regularly before the Ark of the Covenant.
2. Sacred Actions
There were sacred actions such as in Psalm 96: ‘Ascribe to the LORD the glory due his name; bring an offering, and come into his courts!’ Psalm 107: ‘Let them give thanks to the LORD for his unfailing love and his wonderful deeds for mankind. Let them sacrifice thanks offerings and tell of his works with songs of joy. Psalm 116: What shall I return to the LORD for all his goodness to me? I will life up the cup of salvation and call on the name of the Lord. I will fulfill my vows to the ORD in the presence of all his people. I will sacrifice a thank offering to you and call on the name of the LORD. I will fulfill my vows to the LORD in the presence of all his people, in the courts of the house of the LORD – in you midst, Jerusalem. Praise the LORD. These are Song of Grateful Praise. There were also prophetic oracles that were given at the temple. Psalm 50 would an example of that, a psalm of Asaph which says the Mighty One, God, the LORD, speaks and summons the earth from the rising of the sun to where it sets. Listen, my people, and I will speak; I will testify against you, Israel; I am God, your God. I bring no charges against you concerning your sacrifices or concerning your burnt offerings, which are ever before me. We see that Psalm 50 is a prophetic oracle.
There were also processions as shown in Psalm 26: I wash my hands in innocence, and go about your altar, LORD, proclaiming aloud your praise and telling of all your wonderful deeds. LORD, I love the house where you live, the place where your glory dwells. He describes a procession in Psalm 68:25-27: In front are the singers, after them the musicians; then with them are the young women playing the tumbrels. Praise God in the great congregation; praise the LORD in the assembly of Israel. There is the little tribe of Benjamin, leading them, there the great throng of Judah’s princes, and there the princes of Zebulun and of Naphtali.
4. Songs of Pilgrimage
Psalms 120-134 were sung when Israel made pilgrimage to the temple. Psalm 84 shows the experience on the way to the temple. This belongs to the Sons of Korah, perhaps composed within their community. It was performed by the Korahites. Psalm 84:
1 How lovely is your dwelling place, LORD Almighty!
2 My soul yearns, even faints, for the courts of the LORD; my heart and my flesh cry out for the living God.
3 Even the sparrow has found a home, and the swallow a nest for herself, where she may have her young— a place near your altar, LORD Almighty, my King and my God.
4 Blessed are those who dwell in your house; they are ever praising you.
5 Blessed are those whose strength is in you, whose hearts are set on pilgrimage.
6 As they pass through the Valley of Baka (tears), they make it a place of springs; the autumn rains also cover it with pools.
7 They go from strength to strength, till each appears before God in Zion.
8 Hear my prayer, LORD God Almighty; listen to me, God of Jacob.
9 Look on our shield, O God; look with favor on your anointed one.
10 Better is one day in your courts than a thousand elsewhere; I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of the wicked.
11 For the LORD God is a sun and shield; the LORD bestows favor and honor; no good thing does he withhold from those whose walk is blameless.
12 LORD Almighty, blessed is the one who trusts in you. (Psa 84:1-12)
Their tears are transformed into life and in verse 8, he is at the temple. He prays for the king and then reflects upon the beauty of his pilgrimage. He looks forward to being in the presence of God and when he gets into the presence of God, he prays that God will look in favor on the king. He realizes that there is nothing better than to be in the presence of God in worship and in prayer.
5. A Song of Ascents
A Psalm of David. Psalm 122: I rejoiced with those who said to me, let us go to the house of the LORD. Our feet are standing in your gates, Jerusalem. Jerusalem is built like a city that is closely compacted together. That is where the tribes go up – the tribes of the LORD – to praise the name of the LORD according to the statute given to Israel. There stand the thrones for judgement, the thrones of the house of David. Pray for the peace of Jerusalem; may those who love you be secure. May there be peace within your walls and security within your citadels. For the sake of my family and friends, I will say, peace be within you. For the sake of the house of the LORD our God, I will seek your prosperity.
So we see the life and actions associated with the temple, especially where the songs were sung. We understand what is happening through the external expression of religion.
D. Sacred Objects and People
We have the altar, the cup and banners along with the musical instruments. They pray for the king as he is going out to war in Psalm 20 as it says, may we shout for joy over your victory and lift up our banners in the name of our God. May the LORD grant all your requests! In Psalm 150, the orchestra is used to praise the LORD: praise the LORD. Praise God in his sanctuary; praise him in his mighty heavens. Praise him for his acts of power; praise him for his surpassing greatness. Praise him with the blast of the ram’s horn, praise him with the harp and lyre, praise him with timbrel and dance, praise him with the strings and pipe, praise him with the clash of cymbals, and praise him with resounding cymbals. Let everything that has breath praise the LORD. Praise the LORD.
The temple was really the expression of heaven. There was no sharp dichotomy between God in heaven and God in the temple. The temple was a way of thinking about heaven. We cannot think about God or heaven apart from metaphor. And the metaphor for God is that he sees us and hears us. He gave us eyes that we may know he can see and gave us ears so that we know that he can hear. We are theomorphic (made like God) and metaphors for what God is like and the temple are a metaphor for heaven. It is not that God has a corporeal eye or ear, but we know he sees and he hears. Israel itself and the temple king is a metaphor, a picture of Christ and his church on the diachronic level. For the sacred people, they include the angels: Psalm 103:20-21 says, bless the LORD, O you his angels, you mighty ones who do his word, obeying the voice of his word! Bless the Lord, all his hosts, his ministers, who do his will! There are also the priests from Psalm 132:8-9: Let us go to his dwelling place; let us worship at his footstool! Arise, O LORD, and go to your resting place, you and the ark of your might. Let your priests be clothed with righteousness, and let you saints shout for joy. Then we have the Levites in Psalm 135:19-20: O house of Israel, bless the LORD! O house of Aaron, bless the LORD! O house of Levi, bless the LORD; you who fear the LORD, bless the LORD!
Transcribed by BT Ambassador Phil Smith