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Psalms: Songs of Devotion
Volume 1 Psalms 1-50
By Robert Alden
Moody PressCopyright © 1974 The Moody Bible Institute of Chicago
All rights reserved.
It is appropriate that an introduction such as Psalm 1 should begin this collection of songs and poems. Two ways of life are presented immediately. First there is the way of the righteous, the blessed, the lawkeeper, the avoider of sins. On the other hand, there is the wicked, the chaff-like man, who deserves no reward with the blessed. After all is said and done, are there not but two ways of life? We either fear and love God or we do not. The latter is one of the simplest definitions of sin.
The psalm is interesting in its structure as well as universal in its application. It has the typical parallelism of phrasing found throughout the poetical books of the Old Testament. The first verse is an example of this. Three things the blessed man does not do: he does not walk in the counsel of the ungodly; he does not stand in the way of sinners; he does not sit in the seat of the scornful.
More interesting, however, is the chiastic structure of the poem. Chiastic means that the first and last themes or ideas reflect each other and the middle ideas reflect each other. - - A B B A. In verses (1-2) there is the blessed man deciding for righteousness and against wickedness. At the end of the poem, in verses 5-6, the blessed Lord "decides" for the righteous man and against the wicked. In the middle of the psalm two pictures are drawn by the literary artist. Verse 3 is a picture of the righteous man as a green, fruitful tree in a fertile place. Verse 4 is a picture of a wicked man who is like useless chaff, fit only to be blown away by the wind.
Looking at the psalm in more detail, one sees what the blessed and wicked ways are. The man who does not follow bad advice, stand with sinners, or spend all his time criticizing is blessed. The verbs in verse 1 present a progression: walking, standing, sitting. But the three kinds of bad people are not progressively worse. Scorners are not worse than sinners.
What does walking in the counsel of the ungodly mean? It means simply following the advice of people who do not consider God. They do not mean to be anti-godly or atheistic, but they do not fear and love God. Hence when they give advice, God's claims and commands are of little moment. This verse is especially good for young people who are facing the major decisions of life: What and where shall I study? Whom shall I marry? What shall be my career? Shall I serve God?
Taking the advice of the ungodly leads to standing where sinners stand. We might put it in these terms: Ungodly advice leads to taking a sinner's stand on spiritual and moral issues.
The last term, scorn, is not too common in modern English but finds its meaning in our word mockery. People in the "scorner's seat" criticize many things but, in particular, God's people, God's Book, and God's way. They often mock God's Son and even the Father Himself.
But the Bible does not describe good merely in negative terms, and there follows here a description of what the blessed man is like. He thinks about God and His law, the Bible. This does not mean that he is a professional Bible scholar but, rather, that throughout the day and the waking hours of the night every happening of life prompts a reflection on something in the Bible.
Verses 3-4 present two pictures: verse 3 of the blessed man and verse 4 of the ungodly man. The former is like a green and productive tree because it is planted by a river (cf. Jer 17:8). The ungodly is pictured as chaff, the refuse of the wheat-threshing operation. Bible students may be permitted to see some limited types here. The water is a source of life as Christ is our life. The unwithering leaf is the unblemished and untarnished testimony of the obedient Christian. The fruit (cf. Gal 5:22f.) in season is the regular and abundant service which we ought to render to our Lord. In the second picture, the useless, inedible chaff is fit only for destruction. This corresponds to the eternal destiny of the wicked, who are utterly lost.
The therefore of verse 5 introduces the conclusion. Because the wicked are like chaff, they shall not stand at the judgment—they shall not be in the congregation of the righteous. When God executes His justice they shall not be able to withstand it. In verse 1 the blessed man chose not to stand or sit with sinners; now God justly forbids the sinner to stand or sit with His chosen. He knows and loves the righteous way of the righteous man, but the ungodly way of the ungodly man leads to peril and punishment.CHAPTER 2
The second psalm is well-known for at least two reasons. It is the first Messianic psalm (verse 2 has in it the word anointed, which is Messiah in Hebrew and Christ in Greek). When Paul preached to the Jews of Antioch in Pisida, he cited the seventh verse (Ac 13:33). This is the only numbered reference to any Old Testament passage in the New Testament.) Hebrews 1:5 and 5:5 contain the same quotation. Revelation 19 has several allusions to phrases in this psalm. Psalm 2:2 may be the background of Revelation 19:19 and Psalm 2:9-10 of Revelation 19:15.
Psalm 2 has far-reaching implications and dramatic scenes. It is also interesting in its structure. The twelve verses may easily be divided into four stanzas of three verses each. In the first three verses the vicious but vain actions of the enemies of God are presented in the form of a rhetorical question. In verses 4-6 attention is focused on the almighty Sovereign of heaven and earth and His fearful reaction to hostile plots. Verses 7-9 are largely a quotation within a quotation. The Son relates His Father's instructions to Him. Finally, the last three verses are exhortations to the rulers to be obeisant and obedient to the Son. Thus we have:
The actions of earthly rulers (1-3)
The actions of God the Father (4-6)
The commands to the Son (7-9)
The commands to earthly rulers (10-12)
Note the parallelism, A A B B, and the chiasmus, ABBA. (See commentary on Psalm 1 for an explanation of these terms.)
The opening verses, which describe the actions of ungodly men, do so both in general and specific terms and with progressively more detail. The psalmist indicts the nations and the people in the first verse and the leaders of the people in the second verse. Their deeds are described in the first verse as generally mad and futile, but are narrowed down in the second verse to a specific plot to overthrow God and His Christ. The third verse gives the details of this evil plot. The same Hebrew word lies behind the "meditate" of Psalm 1:2 as the word "rage" in Psalm 2:1. Whereas the godly man uses his mental energies delighting in God's Word, the ungodly leaders use theirs to plot against God's rule.
This description of the unfortunate and uninformed state of the unregenerate mind is not unique to 1000 B.C. when David lived. The same thought patterns prevail more or less openly today. The world is at enmity with God, and rulers and ruled alike seek to escape the demands of God on their lives. They seek to outwit the Creator and to undo the mission of His dear Son.
The picture of God in the fourth verse is an unusual one. He laughs and derides. The laugh seems to be the kind of chuckle a champion gives when his opponent's defeat is imminent. The derision is probably mixed with the wrath and displeasure described in the following verse. He laughs at the futility of human actions, but He is angry at the whole idea of man trying to overthrow God. Rather than surrender His dignity, He commissions His king to execute wrath.
Because of the sixth verse, many liberal commentators see David and David only in this psalm. They call it a royal psalm and say it was probably composed for the enthronement of the monarch. The kingship of Israel was a divinely appointed office. The king was "set" or installed because of God's choice and was there to rule on God's behalf.
Such a limited application, however, is incompatible with the remainder of the psalm. Unless the accomplishments and promises of the Son are great exaggerations, they cannot apply to David, but only to David's greater Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. For this reason, and because the inspired authors of the New Testament so understood it, this psalm speaks of the commission and mission of Jesus the Messiah.
It helps to understand the third section of the psalm by supplying quotation marks in verses 7-9. The whole section is spoken by the Son, but He quotes His Father beginning with the words, "Thou art my Son." There is some question as to whether verse 7 should read "the decree of the LORD" or, "the decree: the LORD said."
The words of the decree itself are all-important. God says to the Messiah, "Thou art my Son; this day have I begotten thee." Besides being an argument for at least two persons of the Trinity being mentioned in the Old Testament, it is also a statement of the relationship between these two persons. Paul used this verse in Acts 13:33 to support the resurrection of Christ. The Father offers the Son, for the asking, the world for an inheritance. The rebellious nations of verse 1 become the property of the Son. This truth is missionary as well as Messianic. Any passage which speaks of the ends of the earth in the plans of God is missionary. Here, however, more of the negative, judicial aspect of the Son's task is in view. Since the nations are rebels, He will smash them as one would smash a clay pot with an iron rod. The only way to avoid this wrathful punishment is to obey the commands of the last quarter of the psalm.
Verses 10-12 contain five commands to leaders of the nations: be wise, be instructed, serve the Lord, rejoice, and kiss the Son. A colloquial translation might render the first two: "Wise up; get smart." With such enlightened attitudes and divinely illumined spirits they then could serve, rejoice, and kiss the Son.
Perhaps the typical Protestant church needs verse 11b underscored: "Rejoice with trembling." We sometimes forget that it is possible to put these two things side by side. Often when we rejoice we lose our sense of dignity, and when we fear God we forget to enjoy our positions of sonship.
The translators of the Revised Standard Version presumed additional letters in the Hebrew text in order to produce their translation at this point: "Kiss his feet." The presence of the Aramaic word for son (bar rather than the Hebrew ben) perplexed them, but in recent years discoveries have shown that Aramaic is an older language than was thought. It is older than the writing of this psalm, and therefore it is not impossible that such a loan word could appear at this point, as the ancient inspired author sought for variety and color. Hence the older original reading, "Kiss the Son," is preferred. It means to do obeisance to Him. This is not the romantic kiss but the kiss on the feet, the hand, or the shoulder. His worshipers should reverence Him as vassals honored an ancient earthly sovereign. The word little may be a limitation of time or of quantity; that is, God's wrath may "soon" be kindled (NASB), or it may be kindled "but a little" (KJV). There are good reasons for either translation. The major concern ought to be that God be neither a little displeased with us nor soon be angered by us.
The last phrase describes the believer's place of blessedness. One arrives there by putting his trust in God. And so Psalm 2 ends with a promise, using the same line of thought with which Psalm 1 begins: "Blessed are all they that put their trust in him."CHAPTER 3
The third psalm is the first one with a title. Mystery surrounds the origin of psalm titles. In most instances the title pertains to the contents of the psalm. Psalm 51 is a good example. The contents of Psalm 3 could describe any of several tight circumstances which David experienced.
The word rendered "psalm" in this title appears fifty-seven times in other titles. In most of these instances the Hebrew word describing the kind of a psalm is merely transliterated: Shiggaion (Ps 7), Michtam (Ps 16), and Maschil (Ps 78). There is no reason not to believe that Psalm 3 describes David's sentiments toward his son Absalom (2 Sam 15-18), as the inscription indicates,
Selah first occurs in this psalm, where it is found three times. Although many suggestions have been made as to the meaning of this little word, it remains quite uncertain. It is probably a musical notation having something to do with the tempo, volume, or accompaniment of the song, or with the participation or posture of the singer. All attempts to translate it have been unfortunate and ill-advised. For the sake of symmetry one would expect a selah after verse 6, but there is none.
Psalm 3 falls into the category of "trouble and trust" psalms, and is one of the shorter ones. David begins by crying out to God about his troubles, which come primarily in the form of enemies (vv. 1-2). Then follows a personal testimony of God's past favors and grace. Finally, as if to say, "Do it again, Lord," the psalmist prays for salvation for himself and blessing on his people.
The emphasis in the complaint section is on the great number of enemies (cf. 2 Sam 17:1). Three times the Hebrew root for many occurs (translated "increased" in verse 1). Not only are these multitudes the enemies of David, but they are enemies of his God as well. Their accusation betrays this as they falsely charge, "There is no help for him in God." The word for help is the same word as salvation elsewhere (v. 8). Certainly these enemies had in mind temporal, physical salvation, although David might have meant his spiritual salvation as well. A similar range of meaning inheres in the word translated soul. Sometimes it means simply "breath." At other times the life principle is meant.
The testimony section begins, in general terms, in verse 3. God, says David, is my shield (cf. Gen 15:1), my glory, and the lifter up of my head. The verb lift may echo an earlier use of the term in verse 1. Although his enemies rose up, God raised him yet higher. Verses 4-5 mention particular features of his deliverance. In the past he cried and God heard. In the past he slept soundly and God preserved him. Hence, with this new challenge, he testifies that he will not be afraid of myriads of hostile people all around him.
Some early Church Fathers saw the death and resurrection of Christ in verse 5, but most commentators see in these words simply a morning prayer.
The third section (vv. 7-8) contains a prayer for deliverance, but also includes statements of God's past accomplishments. Two verbs form the basis of the prayer: arise and save. Then, as if to remind God of His ability, the psalmist states how God had smashed the jaws and broken the teeth of former enemies. He thus likens his adversaries to disarmed animals, their weapons of destruction (jaws and teeth) now destroyed.
The last verse is somewhat like a benediction, but it is also a prayer. Salvation is God's. And since it is, the blessing is the people's. There is no salvation apart from God and He ever wants to give His people His blessing.CHAPTER 4
Two additional technical terms are found in the title of Psalm 4. The choirmaster or chief musician occurs first and then the name of a musical instrument or a melody, Neginoth, follows. This, too, is a psalm by or about David, as the last two words of the title indicate.
It is difficult to know whom the author is addressing except in those verses where he clearly is petitioning God. Specifically, who are the "sons of men" in verse 2? Usually this term simply means "men" in the frailty of their human limitations (cf. Ps 8:4, Gen 6:2), including their propensity to sin. Were these merely the enemies of David, or did the inspired penman have all men in mind? Apparently the psalm is addressed to all men, for, apart from taking the advice of verses 3 and 4, all men love vanity and seek lies (which is the meaning of the word leasing, v. 2, in the KJV).
The psalm begins and ends with addresses to God. In the middle section (vv. 26) are admonitions to men.
The first verse is something of an introduction. There are three imperative verbs in this one verse: answer (rendered "hear" in the KJV), have mercy, and hear. In a manner typical of many prayers in the Bible, David reminds God of past deliverances. Things were tight for God's servant, but the Lord had released him and loosed the tension.
The first words directed to David's human audience are words of rebuke and reprimand. The three phrases are clipped and abrupt. To make the meaning understandable to the non-Semitic mind, translators must add phrases such as those indicated by italics in the King James Version. The "sons of men" turn the psalmist's glory into shame, they love vanity, they seek lies. Perhaps that first sin is their mocking or insulting David's God and making light of his devotion. (For a discussion of selah, see commentary on Psalm 3.)
Excerpted from Psalms: Songs of Devotion by Robert Alden. Copyright © 1974 The Moody Bible Institute of Chicago. Excerpted by permission of Moody Press.
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