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Psalms: Songs of Discipleship
Volume 3 Psalms 101-150
By Robert Alden
Moody PressCopyright © 1976 The Moody Bible Institute of Chicago
All rights reserved.
Psalm 101 may fall into the category of wisdom psalms or royal psalms. Many of its sentiments reflect the teaching of Proverbs. Compare verse 4 with Proverbs 11:20, verse 5b with Proverbs 6:17, and verse 7 with Proverbs 25:5.
The title states that it is a psalm of David. If one reads the eight verses of the psalm with a king in mind, it sounds like a code of royal ethical behavior. The psalm takes the form of a protestation of integrity, justice, and piety. The things the king is for, as well as the things he is against, receive equal emphasis. He is for wisdom, perfection, and faith; and he is against baseness, perversity, evil, slander, pride, and deceit. Every verse and every stich within each verse, except for the last, contain the pronouns I,me, or my.
The opening two verses strike a positive note in general terms, with the twin virtues of covenant faithfulness (Heb. hesed) and justice as the first words in the Hebrew text.
The only problem in the psalm is the explanation of the question in the middle of verse 2: "When will you come to me?" (J.B.). If the reading and translation are correct, it may be a rhetorical way of expressing the wish, "Please, Lord, be with me."
The poem continues in verses 3-5 with claims of innocence. David resists any identification with evil deeds orwicked people. Not only is he pure, but he does not look with approval on sin (v. 3a), and he hates those who commit such things (v. 3b). The word "know" in verse 4, as in other places it occurs, has a very broad meaning. It includes cognizance, experience, intimate participation, and even love.
Verse 6 turns once more to the positive side of things. Whereas in verse 3 David would not set his eyes on anything base, in verse 6 he says he would set them on the faithful people of the land. From the end of verse 6 through verse 7 the psalm reads like the hiring policy at David's palace. Those who serve must walk in a perfect way, must not be deceitful or tell lies. In a broader sense, the entire nation was the household of the king. Perhaps this policy is a general outline of the judicial system in ancient Israel. This last observation is supported by verse 8, which expands the coverage of this justice to include the city of the LORD, Jerusalem, and the land, Israel. The expression "morning by morning" (ASV) points to the regular meeting sessions of the court.
The modern believer, of course, is not on David's throne, but he is responsible for applying these standards to his own life. Verse 3 warns us to keep only pure scenes before our eyes. Verse 5 states the fact that talking evil behind a neighbor's back is abhorrent to God. Verse 7 demands that we be absolutely honest. Verse 8 reminds us to examine our lives daily for sins and to destroy them before they destroy us.
Only as we meet these requirements and seek to conform our lives to the tenets of Psalm 101 can we sing of God's loving-kindness and justice, and behave wisely in a perfect way (vv. 1-2).CHAPTER 2
Psalm 102 divides easily into three parts: verses 1-11 record the believer's complaint, verses 12-22 contain praise to God for His mercy to Zion, and verses 23-28 meditate on the brevity of human life and the eternality of God.
The opening third of this psalm describes in as desperate terms as may be found anywhere the plight of the man who feels cursed by God. Affliction is not seen as punishment for sin or as chastening for righteousness' sake but, rather, is without a reason. Although the afflicted appeals to God's mercy, there is no hint of repentance.
After the initial two verses, which are a prayer for mercy, there follows a catalog of unpleasantries. In highly poetic style the author of this psalm describes his lack of appetite (v. 4), the quick passage of his brief years (vv. 3, 11), his malnutrition (v. 5), his loneliness (vv. 6-7), his abuse by enemies (v. 8), and his sadness (v. 9). The imagery is quite rich. Note for instance brevity of life compared to smoke (v. 3) and grass (v. 11); solitude compared to the habits of the pelican, owl, and sparrow (vv. 6-7); and food and drink compared to ashes and tears (v. 9).
The first and third sections of this psalm go well together with the focus on fast-approaching death. Compare verses 3 and 11 with verses 23 and 24. The middle section fits with the last section by emphasizing God's eternality. Notice verse 12 and verses 25-27.
Verses 12-22 are not so much a prayer for deliverance of Zion as an anticipation of that deliverance. This ancient poet is sure that just as God is eternal and sovereign so will He see to the preservation of His holy city. These verses are the only clue to the date of the work. Apparently Jerusalem is under siege, already destroyed, or its people are exiled.
The expression at the end of verse 13 is similar to Isaiah 61:2 (MLB), "The year of the Lord's favor." In due time, when He has all circumstances ready and at the most propitious moment, God will act. That time had arrived, according to verse 13, and so God's restoration of Zion will have the greatest apologetic value. Unbelieving nations and foreign powers will have to notice that there is a God who acts on behalf of His people. Those who have been destitute can use these blessed facts for their own encouragement, for the persuasion of outsiders, and for strengthening that heritage of faith for their descendants. The psalm builds almost to eschatological proportions at verse 22, where we see people of all races and languages, realms and ages, gathered to serve the King of kings.
The third part of the psalm, verses 23-28, is familiar because Hebrews 1:10-12 is a quotation of verses 25-27. Both here and in Hebrews the everlasting nature of the godhead is in view. Naturally, with the limited revelation available in Old Testament times, one thinks of God the Father in these verses, but the author of Hebrews ascribes them to God the Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. He participated in the creation (v. 25), He lives forever (v. 27), and He is unchangeable (v. 26). Together with John 1:3, verse 25 is one of the best for showing that Christ was active at the genesis of the world.
This whole third section is spoken by a man aware of approaching death, but full of assurance in the everlasting God. Though his days are short and his strength failing, he knows God who is the opposite of all human frailty. Though we are like old garments and withering grass, our God is the Creator, the Sustainer, and the immutable Lord of heaven and earth.CHAPTER 3
"Bless the Lord, O my soul" both begins and ends this well-known psalm. Other verses within it are familiar and beloved also. Verse 10 reads:
He hath not dealt with us after our sins; nor rewarded us according to our iniquities.
And verse 13:
Like as a father pitieth his children, so the Lord pitieth them that fear him.
Some people are confused by the word "bless." God blesses us and we are told to bless God. "How can we be God's benefactor?" they rightly ask. The answer is to be found in the broader meaning of the Hebrew word which lies behind the translation. It is correctly rendered by the word "bless," but it means both to get good things from God and to give good things back to God. One of the few things we are in any position to return to God is praise; hence in this psalm and elsewhere "bless" means "praise."
Even more interesting is the root from which the Hebrew word comes. The same root letters are in the noun "knee" and hence the related verb is "kneel." Ancient blessings between fathers and sons and between sovereigns and subjects were made with the latter kneeling at the knee of the former. Hence "to bless" may mean "to kneel" as well as "to bestow divine gifts."
This psalm does have evidence of plan in it. Not only the same words of injunction both open and close the psalm but there is a loose chiastic structure. Note the following proposed outline:
A Admonition to personal praise (vv. 1-5)
B God's being and doings (vv. 6-14)
C Man's being (vv. 15-16)
B God's being and doings (vv. 17-19)
A Admonition to universal praise (vv. 20-22)
The first section is composed of the admonition to praise the Lord who does such and such. There are five relative clauses which describe all the things God did and does, things which we ought not to forget. He forgives all our sin. This is our first and most desperate need in terms of His demands and our inability. He heals all our diseases. If we might spiritualize here, He cures us of the fatal cancer of sin. He redeems us from destruction. He saves us forever. He repossesses us from His enemy and the enemy of our souls. He crowns us with loving-kindness and tender mercy. Then He satisfies our desires with good things. By this time our desires are His desires and He delights so to bless us. Without these daily provisions our lives would be impossible.
The section on God's being and doings is an abbreviated list of God's attributes in poetic form. Verse 6 speaks of His justice, verse 8 of His mercy, verse 11 of His love, and verse 14 of His omniscience. In addition, verse 7 speaks of His revelation to Moses and the people of Israel.
This is a blessed psalm not only because of the admonition to "bless the Lord" at its beginning and end, but also because there is almost nothing of God's anger or punishment in it. It is for God's redeemed people, and its truths neither apply to the unregenerate nor may be appropriated by them. The second section on God's doings makes this distinction. Verse 17 indicates that His loving-kindness, His covenant love, is for those who fear and reverence Him. Man, though finite and temporal, may have a blessed, everlasting heritage through membership in God's family, "to such as keep his covenant, and to those that remember his commandments to do them" (v. 18).
The closing section exhorts the whole creation, heaven and earth, to praise God. His mighty angels, who have the privilege of seeing Him firsthand as well as we, the works of His hands, are enjoined to bless Him. Verses 20 and 21 are probably addressed to those heavenly creatures under the terms "angels," "hosts," and "ministers." Each reader, however, is under the same orders when he reads the last words of this blessed psalm: "Bless the Lord, O my soul."CHAPTER 4
Psalm 104, like Psalm 103, begins and ends with the words, "Bless the Lord, O my soul." The outline of Psalm 104, however, is not as discernible as the one in the psalm which precedes it. These thirty-five verses constitute a majestic hymn of praise to God, especially for His creative and sustaining power.
In a very general way, the psalm follows the order of creation in Genesis. The light of Genesis 1:3 appears in verse 2. The cover of water and the subsequent appearance of the dry land (Gen 1:2, 9) correspond to verses 6 and 7. The growth of the herbs and grass (Gen 1:11-12) appears in verse 14, and the daily and monthly divisions of Genesis 1: 14-18 receive mention in verse 20.
The New American Bible offers this broad outline for Psalm 104:
The marvels of atmosphere and sky (vv. 1-4) of the dry land and ocean (vv. 5-9)
of the streams and fields that give drink and food to man, beast, and bird (vv. 10-18)
of the sun and moon with the activities of day and night (vv. 19-23)
of the manifold life in the mighty sea (vv. 24-26)
The Lord governs and sustains all His creatures (vv. 27-30)
God's omnipotence and sanctity (vv. 31-35)
The language is very lofty and picturesque throughout. From the beginning this psalm illustrates the Hebrew penchant for describing concepts and relationships in concrete terms. Note in verse 1 how God is clothed with honor and majesty. In verse 2 He is dressed in light. According to verse 3, He rides on the clouds and walks on the wind.
Verse 4 is quoted in Hebrews 1:7, where the writer is arguing for the superiority of Christ over angels. "Angel" and "messenger" are alternate translations of the same Hebrew and Greek words. In Psalm 104 they are wind and fire, which serve God. In Hebrews, Christ is over them in the ranks of superhuman beings.
Job 38:9-11 somewhat parallels verses 5-7, especially as the waters are viewed as a garment for the earth and as God has set boundaries for the oceans.
From the cosmic descriptions of God's creative activity (vv. 1-9), the psalmist begins at verse 10 to examine the more mundane and everyday features of His providence. Not only is God responsible for seas, winds, and clouds, but He also provides food and drink for all animal life. A certain orderliness characterizes the earth, with all its natural processes moving like clockwork to the benefit of all. So trees are for birds (v. 17), mountains are for goats (v. 18), and all are to enjoy the grass and herbs (v. 14) watered by rivers and springs (v. 10), which ultimately get their water from the sky, God's chambers (v. 13).
Verse 15 is a beautiful and well-known reference to the three basic crops of the ancient Palestinian: grapes, olives, and grain. These supplied his three basic commodities: wine, oil, and bread (cf. Deu 24:19-21). Oil had several uses: for cooking, to make perfumed lotions, to combat skin dryness, as medicine, and to fuel lamps.
Just as in verses 18 and 19 certain animals lived in certain places, so in verses 20-22 different animals have special times to hunt and hide. Man too fits into this elaborate scheme by being a daytime worker (v. 23).
Verse 24 is a kind of doxology inserted at a point where the psalmist seems overwhelmed by the intricacies and magnificence of God's wise operations.
After two verses relating to activities in and on the seas, God's provision of food for all is once more emphasized (vv. 27-28). Just as God is in control of life, so death comes to all creatures (v. 29). This too is part of His sovereign design for the world.
The concluding five verses of the psalm read like a prayer with several jussives ("let" forms expressing mild commands). The worshiper wishes himself to be constantly and everlastingly praising God. As in Psalm 19:14, he prays that his thoughts, as well, might be sweet and hence acceptable to God (v. 34).
Only verse 35 has a negative note, although the ancient servant of God probably would not agree. God is glorified, he would protest, both by blessing the righteous and by cursing the wicked. Not to punish the sinner would be unjust. So, coupled with all the lovely thoughts of verses 31-35 is the imprecation against the enemies of God. But even in this the poet enjoins his soul once more to bless the Lord.CHAPTER 5
Psalm 105 is like Psalm 78 in that they both recite the history of Israel. As Psalm 104 speaks of the history and operation of the creation, so Psalm 105 praises God for His faithfulness to the Abrahamic covenant in giving the Israelites the promised land. The story goes from the father of the faithful to the occupation of Canaan.
For purposes of study, the psalm's forty-five verses divide into several pericopes. Verses 1-6 are a general invitation to praise, indicating that perhaps this composition was for some festival. God's faithful keeping of the Abrahamic covenant is the theme of verses 7-11. Verses 12-15 briefly speak of the wanderings of the patriarchs. Then the life of Joseph is summarized (vv. 1622). The next three verses capsulize the 400 years in Egypt. Verses 26-36 speak of Moses and the Egyptian plagues. Then the Exodus and the forty years of wanderings come into view (vv. 37-42). The final three verses summarize the whole poem and end on a note of praise to God for bringing His people into the promised land.
If the "praise the Lord" (Heb., hallelujah) at the end of Psalm 104 goes at the beginning of Psalm 105, as the Vulgate translation of the Old Testament indicates, then this psalm both begins and ends with the same words. (It would also make the opening and closing words of Psalm 104 match more perfectly.)
In 1 Chronicles 16:8-22 are found the first fifteen verses of Psalm 105. Other comparisons exist between verse 36 and Psalm 78:51; verse 39 and 78:14; and verse 40 and 78:24.
A series of imperatives opens the psalm. Note the injunctions to give thanks, call, make known, sing, praise, talk, glory, rejoice, seek, and remember (vv. 15). This psalm especially emphasizes a note of remembrance. We are to remember (v. 5) that God has not forgotten His covenant (v. 8). As the historical section begins with that idea, so it ends the same way. Verse 42 states once more that He remembered His holy word and Abraham His servant.
Excerpted from Psalms: Songs of Discipleship by Robert Alden. Copyright © 1976 The Moody Bible Institute of Chicago. Excerpted by permission of Moody Press.
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