Lecture 6: Hymns of Praise (part 1)
Course: Book of Psalms
Lecture: Hymns of Praise (Part 1)
This is the 6th lecture in the online series of lectures on Psalms by Dr Bruce Waltke. Recommended Reading includes: The Psalms as Christian Lament, James Houston, Bruce Waltke; The Psalms as Christian Worship: An Historical Commentary, James Houston, Bruce Waltke
Review of Lecture 5
We have been considering different approaches to the Book of Psalms. Our intention is not to develop a theology of the Psalms per say or the spiritual life that we may gather from the Psalms, but rather to give the student tools for a life time of study in the Psalms. So one approach was the historical approach in which we accept the superscript that gives us the authorship of the Psalms. In many cases seventy three of them are by David and I made the case against most academia that indeed superscripts are trustworthy. The New Testament recognizes it as well that David authored the Psalms. This has profound implications on the way we understand these Psalms because we now understand that the ‘I’ who speaks in these Psalms is the King and that enables us to explore more broadly that the king is a very dominant person in the Psalms as it often speaks of the king, even those that are not written by David. So in the pilgrimage in Psalm 84, they prayed to the king when they arrived in Jerusalem because he is the one that represents the kingdom. With that royal interpretation and we understand ourselves and the king. The Son of David quintessentially is more than the Son of David; he is the Son of God. So the Psalms speaks of him either directly or indirectly where Jesus is the Son of David. The New Testament interpretation grows naturally out of the Old Testament in God’s revelation of himself. We know that the church today; we are in Christ and we are the seed of Abraham. When we pray, we pray in conjunction with Christ, in the name of Christ in unity with the Son of God and the Son of David.
The form approach in understanding the kind of literature we are dealing with; we started this on the broad concept of poetry. We looked at how to read poetry, thus having three aspects to it; it is terse and it is like a slide show compared to pose which is like a motion picture. You get a much more defined picture with each verse in poetry. It is also a heightened style, full of figures of speech. It shows us that God is very ascetic. But the fundamental idea of poetry is parallelism. You say a line and then you say a related statement that gives another angle on it. In reading Hebrew poetry, you consider the stereophonic way it is presented. You think about how the two lines are related and how they differ. In doing this, you enter into all sorts of rich insights of the Word. Another aspect of poetry is the figures of speech where the whole psalm is a figure of speech which could be sheep and it shows that the Lord provides for his flock. He restores his flock and protects it; this is all done through imagery and imaginary language. So the flock is feeding on the very finest grass and restoration is by the quiet waters and even though they walk in places that are dark, God is with them. This is talking about God’s goodness and his faithfulness to us. So we see that the psalms speak using figurative language. Whenever we talk about God with God being Spirit, anything we say about God is figurative, it’s metaphorical because that it is the only way we can describe God. God has presented himself metaphorically to us as Father; we shouldn’t we change that to mother as some think. This is the way God is understood and the way we are told to understand God.
Now we consider different forms of psalms. We have considered form criticism, its strengths and its weaknesses and how it came about as a result of higher criticism. We saw that it came out of Germanic liberal scholarship; they talk about where the psalms originated because they have dismissed Davidic authorship. They ask rather about the settings of the psalms in life and where it was circulated. Some songs, such as the hymns and grateful praise originated in the Temple, probably with singers and also with David who designed the Temple and I suspect he composed hymns in anticipation that there would be a Temple having a given design for the Temple. He wrote the dedicatory psalm for the dedication of the Temple. I would imagine that he also prepared hymns for the Temple. He could very well be the author for hymns prepared and used in the Temple. I am not sure whether or not his petition psalms were originally intended for the Temple. I know that his poems of great anguish and pain and protest and struggling with God’s justice eventually ended up in the Temple worship as they were handed over to the director of music. So these psalms that were personal to David are applicable to all of us and that gives us the license to use these psalms for ourselves because they were handled over to the director of music. So his petitions and his praises were intended for our use.
So they are grouped by common words, common moods and motifs and so this grouping ended up with five basic types: hymns, Gunkel limited the royal psalms to ten that mention the king; so Psalm 2 for example, I have set my king upon Zion on my holy hill, calling that a Royal Psalm. Psalm 18 speaks about the king’s victories; Psalm 20 is about the king going out to battle and the priest and people pray for the him. In Psalm 21, the king returns victorious and then Psalm 45 is a wedding psalm for the king. We have Psalm 110, a coronation liturgy. So you have ten psalms that explicitly mention the king but they are not all grouped together. Gunkel called the third group complaint psalms. They go by different names; they also can be called laments or petitions. We see that the psalms had distinct motifs. For example the petition psalms have within them a lament. Sometimes they are lamenting their situation in which they find themselves or they are protesting the justice of being in that situation. Another type of psalms is grateful praises, called todah in Hebrew. Grateful praises differs from praise in general where you talk about God’s attributes as being his essence, his communicable attributes of eternality, his omnipotence and his work in the history of Israel. It isn’t specific; it is what God did for his people during their history. The grateful song is a specific answer to prayer. There are fifteen songs of grateful praise and fifty songs of petition. Gunkel’s work on the psalms is indeed amazing but honestly in all of it, I am not sure that he understood the spiritually of the psalms in terms of praise to God. He also divided the laments between community and nation.
In 1st Chronicles 16:4 we see that David appointed the Levites to minister before the ark of the Lord to petition, to give thanks and to praise and there we are told that there are three kinds of Psalms. This didn’t distinguish between the individual and the community. This is because this is very difficult as the king represents the people. We saw this is Psalm 4 where it asked oh that one would show us good where he says to fill my heart with great joy when their grain and new wine abound. He as the king identifies with the community. So it is Christ praying for us for our good and he rejoices when our needs are met. We are in the midst of hymns in psalms of praise. Our method is to look at it broadly so we can have a feeling for how the Salter is thinking. We will distinguish between the psalms of thanksgiving and grateful praise and specific answer to prayer.
Note there is no word for thanksgiving in Hebrew. On Thanksgiving Day, we say thank you to God. This is not Hebrew whereas in Hebrew, they would say, let me tell you what the Lord has done for us and they would be very specific. You don’t say thank you God, rather it is public, let me tell everybody what God has done for me. It is public praise and grateful praise; it is not some private exchange between you and God. It is a confession; that is what the word todah means, to confess. It is a confession of what God has done for me. We have the general praise and then two types of grateful praise: community and individual.
Now in regards to the hymns, there are five points: there are the motifs of the hymns and then the second one is the performance, of who actually performs and sings the hymns. Next is the theology, the content of praise and then there is a subtype of praise psalm, the songs of Zion where you celebrate where God lives. There are so-called enthronement psalms also. Under Motifs, there is the call to praise which is the introduction and then there is the cause for praise, the body and then a renewed call to Praise. The call to praise is like a match that ignites the fire. The cause for praise is the fuel that is lite up and then it ends often with a hallelujah, praise the Lord. I illustrated this by using Psalm 117:
Praise the LORD, all you nations;
extol him, all you peoples.
For great is his love toward us,
and the faithfulness of the LORD endures forever.
Praise the LORD. (117:1-2)
This is amazing! He is telling the pagan nations to praise him because of what he did for all of us. He wants the nations of the world to praise the God of Israel for what he did for them. Then, we look at the whole of the Psalm 33, an extensive hymn of praise. There is an imperative mood in this. You are being called upon and told to praise the Lord. Gunkel divides it up into different grammatical parts including the 2nd person, the jussive form and then the cohortative form: you praise the Lord and let people praise the Lord, etc. Here, C. S. Lewis says that there are some things that are admiral and it is wrong not to praise God is someone to admire. We see in in Psalm 95 that we are to praise God in all circumstances, for he says: comes, let us praise the Lord and not harden our hearts.
HYMNS OF PRAISE (PART 1)
1. Introduction (continued from Lecture 5)
a. Mood of Enthusiasm
God wants a fervent spirit. Again with Gunkel in his analysis of everything: the psalm is orchestrated with musical instruments and singing. There is movement as they clap their hands and lift them up in the sanctuary in praise to the Lord. From Psalm 47:1, we have, praise the LORD, all you servants of the LORD who minister by night in the house of the LORD. Lift up your hands in the sanctuary and praise the Lord. The psalm uses words like rejoice, exult, be happy, and give honor and praise. From Psalm 29:1: ascribe to the LORD, all you families of nations, ascribe to the LORD glory and strength. Ascribe to the LORD the glory due his name; bring an offering and come into his courts. Praise has to be with enthusiasm to please God, not formalism. The point of the Psalm is to rejoice and celebrate God. It used with an offering up of a sacrifice, an animal sacrifice but with the coming of the New Testament which was before the destruction of the Temple and the sacrifice of Christ, now, our praise is like a sacrifice, it is a sweet savor to God. A hallelujah was originally voiced by all the people at the end of the song of praise as shown in Psalm 106:48.
b. Songs are performed by Those Who Love Him
It is done by choirs and/or the congregation. In ancient Israel, they had choirs. They were the Levitical guiles. So you have songs by the sons of Kora. Some were singers; some were gate keepers in the Temple. To be a Temple singer was a high honor. Gunkel calls attention to the prophet Miriam, Aaron’s sister who took a timbre in her hand, and all the women followed her, with timbres and dancing. Miriam sang to them: ‘Sing to the LORD, for he is highly exalted.’ God wants the righteous, the upright ones, upright in heart, those that fear God, those who love his name, who love his salvation, who seek him and those who hide themselves in him. Those people who are not living right and singing Gospel songs and praising Jesus as a literary genre; God doesn’t want this; in fact, he hates it. It is an abomination to him. We see in Psalm 115 where it says, ‘not to us, LORD, not to us but to your name be the glory, because of your love and faithfulness.’ Yet, we look up to these modern singers! The Psalmist never asks for praise; he wants God to get all the praise. We have Psalm 50, a psalm of Asaph. It is a prophetic word that is calling for praise which God wants, not that he needs it but it is fitting and right. In answering your prayer, sacrifice a thank offerings to God, fulfill your vows to the Most High. He tells us to call on him in the day of trouble for he will deliver us and we will honor him for it. But God says about the wicked, ‘what right do you have to recite my laws or take my covenant on your lips? You hate instruction and cast my words behind you. When you see a thief, you join with them; you throw in your lot with adulterers. You use your mouth for evil and harness your tongue to deceit. You sit and testify against your brother and slander your own mother’s son. When you did these things and I kept silent, you though I was exactly like you. But I now arraign you and set my accusations before you. Consider this, you who forget God or I will tear you to pieces, with no one to rescue you; those who sacrifice thank offerings honor me, and to the blameless I will show my salvation. The wicked have no right to recite his words. For ourselves, for those who love God, God’s grace is greater than our sins so let us take heart for he loves us.
c. God Wants The World to Praise Him
He wants all the world to praise him, all the earth, the many islands to the ends of the earth and all the inhabitants of the world, all flesh, all that breathes, all the families of the nations, all the peoples and nations and all the kings and princes and even the enemies of God. You see the motif saying that the gentiles should praise God. This goes back to Genesis 12:3 where God said to Abraham to separate himself from his land and his country and his people which Abraham found difficult to do. Abraham was to cut ties with his pagan family. He was very slow to do it. This verse tells us that God will bless those who bless him…..and all people on earth will be blessed through you. As Christians we now identify with Jesus Christ and in baptism we choose to say that we follow Christ and not the world. Baptism is a proclamation in saying that I belong to the one who died for me. It says that I have died to my old life and I am now raised to my new way of life. In the Chinese culture, you are not a Christian unless you are baptized. In baptism some families will disown you because then you are a Christian. But God doesn’t disown you. In fact in the New Testament Jesus will bless you so that you can reproduce spiritually to grow closer to him and to trust him with the life that you have given over to him. But you need to realize that those who are against you are also against the Lord. But whoever blesses you want you to increase.
d. We Are Abraham’s Seed
There are those who want to cruse Jesus by every means available and for everything that Jesus stands for; through derogatory comments that weaken the Bible, that cause people to doubt the authenticity and authority of the Bible. Many who call themselves religious will say that Jesus is just another person in history that he didn’t die on the Cross and say how can God have a son? Many people will also say that there are many ways to heaven and that Jesus is just one way. But those who deny Jesus will sadly end up in death, an everlasting death. In the great Psalm 100, know that the Lord I AM, he is God. Know that you are now the sheep in his pastor. Acknowledge this and you will enter into his blessing. So who is the one that gives blessing; it is Jesus, because he is the son of Abraham. For us today in the new dispensation, we need to know who Jesus is; for he is the one who offers us salvation and there is no salvation apart from him and through him we become part of him; we are the people of God and Jesus is our shepherd. Look at what the Book of Galatians chapter 3 verse 26 says, ‘so in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.’ The spiritual seed of Abraham are those who have accepted Christ and whoever blesses you will be blessed. In 1st Peter 2:9-10, it says that ‘you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, and God’s special possession, what you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God, once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.’ Peter is talking to the church abroad. He says there is neither Jew nor Greek for if you are in Christ you are the seed of Abraham.
Gunkel counts about a hundred forms of ‘I’ who calls himself to sing. In Psalm 103:1-2, it says, ‘praise the Lord, my soul; all my inmost being, praise his holy name. Praise the Lord, my soul, and forget not all his benefits.’
2. Cause for Praise - Theology
Their words of praise become God’s word to us. We learn theology through their words of praise to God. Gunkel says that in the Babylonian and Egyptian poetry the petition was very frequently attached to the songs of praise, making the petition appear to be that which the one praying really had in mind. It is all the more significant that the hymns of the psalter very seldom have a petition attached. Now Gunkel sketches a powerful image of God’s incommunicable attributes of aseity, eternal, Omni-competent knowledge, power and presence. Aseity is a Latin word meaning that he exists from himself. No one made God. He is not dependent on anything but everything is dependent on him. Everything that we know has a beginning and an end but not so for God. God simply is; the materialists say that matter is eternal; it always has been. The Bible says that God created matter and so God is and Spirit is. This is the fundamental divide in philosophy. What is reality? Is matter the whole reality? I would argue that matter is brilliantly organized by laws or it would not exist. There are laws within the whole of creation and thus laws assume intelligence; somebody made them. Whatever is, it is life and truth, it is justice. Everything else apart from Jesus who is the image of God is a delusion. And Christ was always there from the beginning. The trinity is and was from the beginning. So these incommunicable attributes are those that we cannot share. They cannot be communicated, but the communicable attributes are those that we also can have by our relationship with God. These include his grace, his mercy, truth and justice. I can mirror these with God. Consider the following:
"YHWH, "you remain God forever; and you have been from before; before the mountains were born, before the earth and the world were brought forth. For a thousand years are like yesterday when 'they are past"' (Ps 90:2c, lb, 2ab, 4ab). "You founded the earth before time; the heavens are the work of your hands. These will pass away, but you remain. They all fall away like a garment. You change them like a robe, but you remain the same, and your years have no end" (Ps 102:26-28). "YHWH, how many are your works. The earth is full of your creatures" (Ps 104:2ac). "He spoke, and it happened. He commanded and it stood there" (33:9). "They all wait on you, so that you offer food at the right time. You give it to them, they harvest it. You open your hand, and they are satisfied with goodness. You hide your face, they cower. You take their breath, and they expire and turn back to their dust" (Ps 104:27- 29). Everything depends upon God. I believe that there is nothing that explains it better than poetry. This is the greatest literature that has ever been written. We see that God is eternal in the Psalms. He is holy and awesome and highly exalted over the entire world. He is majestic and magnificent and he is powerful beyond measure. He is great in works and in deeds and unending in his knowledge, incomparably wonderful.
In regards to his communicable attributes; his grace assures us that he is not a despot; and his power assures us that he enacts mercy and justice. His favour is over his pious ones as high as the heavens are above the earth. Let our sins be as far from us as the sunrise is from the sunset. YHWH has compassion on his pious ones as a father has compassion on his children.” Psalm 103:11-13 says YHWH, your grace is like the heavens, and your truth reaches to the clouds. Your righteousness is like the mountain of God; your ruling is like the great flood. You help humans and animals. Your grace is so precious. There are five fundaments attributed shown in Exodus 34:6, in the scene of the golden calf where Israel has sinned. They changed their image of the glorious God into an image of a bull. How could they possible do that? How could they turn to their own desires, sex, pride and self-interest? God became furious over this. When you see evil and you are not indignant against it, you are dead. Moses comes down from the mountain sees what they had done and then smashes the stone tablets. ‘And he passed in front of Moses, proclaiming, the LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished, he punishes the children and their children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation. Moses bowed to the ground at once and worshiped. Lord, he said if I have found favour in your eyes, then let the Lord go with us. Although this is a stiff-necked people, forgive our wickedness and our sin, and take us as your inheritance.’
God’s glory is his grace that a perfect God can live with an imperfect people. So in spite of our sin, he is gracious. He doesn’t hold his anger against us. But if we don’t accept that grace we are still in our sin and we are guilty, however if we accept it, then we are forgiven. His grace to us is that he forgives all of our trespasses. However wicked we may have been, whatever we have done in accepting his grace, our sins are removed from us for his grace is greater than our sins. These are his communicable attributes.