The Book of Psalms study begins with a look at the hymns of praise and ends with the Psalms of confidence. Some of the major ideas explored are: God is the Creator of all, what does the Lord require of me, the diversity of the Psalms, responses to crisis, and the use of Psalms in worship.
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The meaning of the selected passages are made clear by considering such aspects as ancient customs, locations of places, and the meanings of words. The simple format makes the study easy to use. Includes maps and glossary with key pronunciation helps.
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About the Author
John C. Holbert wrote these lessons on Psalms. Dr. Holbert, an ordained United Methodist minister, served as Professor Emeritus of Homiletics at Perkins School of Theology, Southern Methodist University. His teaching specialties were in preaching, Hebrew Bible, and literature and preaching.
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HYMNS OF PRAISE
DIMENSION ONE: WHAT DOES THE BIBLE SAY?
Answer these questions by reading Psalm 8
1. The psalm talks to whom? (8:1)
2. What has God created? (8:3)
3. How are human beings described in the psalm? (8:4-5)
Answer these questions by reading Psalm 19.
4. What is proclaiming God's glory in the psalm? (19:1)
5. How does the psalmist describe God's law? (19:7-9)
6. What must our words and thoughts be in relationship to God? (19:14)
Answer these questions by reading Psalm 29
7. The psalm talks to whom? (29:1)
8. What does the voice of God do? (29:3-9)
9. What does the psalmist ask from God? (29:11)
Answer these questions by reading Psalm 33
10. Who should praise God according to this psalm? (33:1)
11. How should God be praised? (33:2-3)
12. What does God do? (33:13-14)
13. What makes the psalmist glad? (33:20-21)
Answer these questions by reading Psalm 47
14. Who is asked to praise God? (47:1)
15. Why should God be praised? (47:7)
Answer these questions by reading Psalm 96
16. What kind of song does the psalmist want us to sing to God? (96:1)
17. Why should we sing to God? (96:4-5)
18. What should we tell the nations about God? (96:10)
Answer these questions by reading Psalm 104
19. Where do we find the clearest evidence of God's work in the world? (104:10, 14, 24)
20. How long will the psalmist praise God? (104:33)
DIMENSION TWO: WHAT DOES THE BIBLE MEAN?
The hymns of praise covered in this lesson are Psalms 8, 19, 29, 33, 47, 96, and 104. Psalms 93, 95, 97, 98, and 99 are of the same type, but are not examined here. All the hymns of praise in the Book of Psalms begin with an introductory call to worship. This call to worship is either a call for others to praise God or for the psalmist to do so (see Psalm 8:1). Next the reason for praise is given. Why should we praise God? (See Psalm 8:5-8.) Finally a summary act of praise is given. This follows a renewed call to praise (see Psalm 8:9).
Now let us look in more detail at some of these hymns of praise we have read.
* Psalm 8:1. The New International Version (NIV) translates the Hebrew consonants YHWH as "Lord." Often this word is written in English as Yahweh. Yahweh is the distinctive name of the Hebrew God, revealed to Moses in Exodus 3:14. Note that Yahweh's name is everywhere, "in all the earth."
* Psalm 8:2. Though Yahweh is "above the heavens," Yahweh's glory comes from the lips of the most inarticulate and unexpected persons in creation, "children and infants."
* Psalm 8:3-8. The sight of Yahweh's creation, "the heavens" (or more clearly in Hebrew, "the sky") and "the moon and the stars," causes the psalmist to be amazed by the insignificance of humanity and by God's interest in and care for humanity. Human beings are puny and yet "little lower than the angels." They are given sweeping power by God over God's creation.
The word translated mankind in the NIV is more correctly translated as humanity.
* Psalm 8:9. After these great thoughts about God and humanity, the psalmist can only repeat the words of praise that began the psalm.
* Psalm 19:1-6. God's creation shouts God's praise without the use of words. The sun, from whose heat nothing can hide, is God's greatest physical creation of the sky. Just like God, the sun is everywhere and the very source of life.
* Psalm 19:7-11. The psalmist shifts suddenly to a discussion of God's law (a translation of the Hebrew word Torah). God is not revealed only in the physical creation. God's teaching provides needed boundaries to life and provides the rewards of servanthood (verse 11).
* Psalm 19:14. The psalmist's last humble plea is that all words and acts may be finally acceptable to God, this great creator God of power and law.
* Psalm 29:1. The psalm is addressed to "heavenly beings." In Hebrew this literally means "the sons of gods." This very old psalm refers to a divine court of many gods with Yahweh as their chief. The idea of and belief in only one God was developed over a long period of time. See Job 1–2 and Exodus 20:3 for other examples in the Old Testament of a belief in the existence of many gods.
* Psalm 29:3-9. The imagery of a thunderstorm provides the description of God's presence here. Notice the thundering voice (verse 3), the flashing fire (verse 7), and the howling wind (verse 9).
* Psalm 29:11. The psalm begins (verse 1) by asking the sons of god to praise the strength of Yahweh. The psalm ends by asking Yahweh to give strength to the people. But not just strength is requested. Strength should always be accompanied by peace, shalom. Shalom in Hebrew comes from the root word for unity. It means "wholeness, oneness."
* Psalm 33:1. The words righteous and upright of verse 1 come originally from the language of a court of law. In the Old Testament, persons are righteous and upright if they fulfill responsibilities in relationships to others. These terms always refer to people in community, not people by themselves.
* Psalm 33:4. Notice that because God's word is "right and true," those who are "righteous" and "upright" (verse 1) are called to praise God.
* Psalm 33:6-9. Once again the creation of the world is seen as God's great act. Notice the relationship of verse 9 to the Creation story of Genesis 1.
* Psalm 33:20-21. Praise is appropriate because we trust the past, present, and future activity of God.
* Psalm 47:1-2. This psalm emphasizes the universal praise of God. All nations (verse 1) are called to praise "the great King over all the earth" (verse 2; see also verse 7).
* Psalm 96:1. The hymns of praise often call for a "new song" (96:1; 33:3; 98:1; Isaiah 42:10). God's ever-new activity on behalf of the people requires new ways of praise.
* Psalm 96:10. The word equity is from the same Hebrew word that was earlier transcribed as upright. God is upright and demands the same from the people. As God deals with equity so must you and I deal equitably with our brothers and sisters.
* Psalm 104:24. Once again the physical creation is the clearest sign of God's work.
DIMENSION THREE: WHAT DOES THE BIBLE MEAN TO ME?
These hymns of praise raise two ideas that are meaningful for us today.
Psalm 8–GOD Is the Creator of All
In most of the hymns of praise we see that God's creation of the physical universe — sun, moon, stars, mountains, trees, water, plants, and humanity — is the chief reason why we should sing praises. These psalms simply assume that God created all life. Note that the psalmist does not argue about how God did it; the psalmist asserts that God did it and then praises God for it.
In our time a huge debate is taking place about the means and the time of creation — did creation occur ten billion years ago or ten thousand years ago? Is evolution responsible for all life on earth, or did all living things simply appear as they now are? As interesting as these questions are, they are not the questions of the Bible. The Bible and these psalms simply say, "God is the creator of all things." And for that God is worthy to be praised. To believe God is creator of all is not to deny or affirm either creationism or evolution. The belief in God as creator begins in faith and grows in faith. How do you relate a belief in God as creator to your views about science?
When we affirm that God is creator of all, we also affirm that God owns all and has a claim on all. If God is creator, then nothing else or no one else is. So God is the only being worthy of ultimate concern and ultimate praise. If we praise the creator God, there can be no place for the ultimate praise of any secondary creator, any man or woman, any group or society or nation. To praise God as creator is to get our priorities straight, to put God in the center of creation, and to push everything and everyone else off center. That is why it is so important that our most-used creeds, such as the Apostles' and the Nicene, affirm God as creator in their first lines. Is a belief in God as creator of all important to you? Why or why not? Try to tell another class member about your belief in God as creator.
Psalm 19 — God Is the Creator of ALL
The hymns of praise often use universal language when speaking of God's creation (see Psalm 96:1, 7). The first affirmation of Genesis 1, "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth," speaks of the universality of God. If God creates all, then God loves all, and God deals with all in equity, justice, and righteousness.
Psalm 19 is especially helpful at this point. The psalm begins by describing the universal creation of God. God's most amazing created thing is the sun, whose heat is given to all (verse 6). The psalmist implies that God is like the sun in that no one hides from God. But because God created the sun, God is greater than the sun. The psalm does not just say, "Praise God, because God created the physical universe." God also creates Torah, or the law and teaching, which God then gives to all for ordering their lives on earth.
That God's Torah is more than a set of laws to follow is made clear by the psalm. Verses 7-9 offer five words to help clarify the meaning of Torah. They are law, statutes, precepts, commands, and decrees. Torah is literally what God has given to us and what we do in response to that gift.
Because God creates Torah and offers it to all, we can never look at one another the same way again. Each of us is a created child of God, and a recipient of God's Torah. Each of us is at the same time a tiny speck in the vast ocean of God's universe (Psalm 8:3-4) and "little lower than the angels" (Psalm 8:5). We are at once dependent and powerful, paltry and magnificent, tiny and titanic.
To believe in God as creator of all is to believe in the "Godlikeness" of each human being. What a revolutionary idea! All our easy labels are torn off! When God is creator of all, I must be related to all and concerned about all, and not just in an abstract way. Every human being is included in God's "all" and so must be in my "all" as well. Is this a freeing concept of God as creator of all or a threatening one for you? How can you make the connection between God as creator and your love of God's creation? What stands in your way?
HYMNS OF PRAISE
DIMENSION ONE: WHAT DOES THE BIBLE SAY?
Answer these questions by reading Psalm 113
1. Where does the psalmist say that God is? (113:4)
2. Why is God worthy of praise? (113:7-9)
3. The psalm begins and ends with what words? (113:1, 9)
Answer these questions by reading Psalm 114
4. What is missing from the beginning of this hymn of praise? (114:1)
5. What great events of Israel's past form the basis for this psalm? (114:1-8)
6. What is missing at the end of this hymn of praise? (114:8)
Answer these questions by reading Psalm 121
7. How is the mood of Psalm 121 different from that of Psalm 113?
8. How is God described in this psalm? (121:2, 4, 5)
9. How are the endings of Psalm 121 and Psalm 113 different? (113:9 and 121:8)
Answer these questions by reading Psalm 135
10. Who are asked to praise God in this psalm? (135:1-2)
11. Which actions of God are praised here? (135:6-12)
12. Who are called on to praise the Lord? (135:19-20)
Answer these questions by reading Psalm 145
13. How does the psalmist describe God's greatness? (145:3)
14. How else is God described in this psalm? (145:8)
15. In whom is God especially interested? (145:14)
Answer these questions by reading Psalm 146
16. How long will the psalmist praise God? (146:2)
17. Why should we not trust in princes? (146:3-4)
18. To whom does God show special care? (146:7-9)
Answer these questions by reading Psalm 150
19. Where should God be praised? (150:1)
20. Why should God be praised? (150:2)
21. How should God be praised? (150:3-5)
22. Who should praise God? (150:6)
DIMENSION TWO: WHAT DOES THE BIBLE MEAN?
The hymns of praise covered in this lesson are Psalms 113, 114, 121, 135, 145, 146, and 150. Psalms 115, 117, 134, 147, 148, and 149 are psalms of the same type, but are not examined here. Lesson 1 pointed out that all the hymns of praise follow a general threefold pattern. As is often the case in biblical studies, this generalization has exceptions. Psalm 114 clearly does not follow the pattern.
The Bible is diverse in outlook and scope. One cannot make easy statements about "what it says." All of us should remember this fact in a day when the Bible is used by some as a stick to break over the heads of "evildoers." In such cases, the "evildoers" are so labeled by those who wield the club.
The Book of Psalms is one of the Bible's best witnesses to diversity in outlook. Even though Psalm 114 does not fit the expected pattern, it is just as certainly a psalm of praise.
* Psalm 113:1. The psalm opens with the phrase, "Praise the LORD" or Hallelujah. Literally, this English word is two Hebrew words that mean Praise Yah! The word praise is a plural command form, while Yah is the short form of one of the Hebrew words for God, Yahweh. (See the discussion of Psalm 8:1 in Lesson 1.)
* Psalm 113:5-6. God is often pictured in the psalms as "enthroned on high," "high up," "above the sky." This metaphor of God up high has sometimes been taken too literally by well-meaning Christians. They limit their understandings of God as one who lives "up there" and/or "out there." Other places in the Scripture break through this overly simple view. Psalm 139 speaks of God as absolutely everywhere. And the prophet Amos, quoting this same tradition, affirms the same truth (Amos 9:2-3). First Kings 8:27 suggests that "the heavens, even the highest heaven, cannot contain you." To limit God to a single place is to make God too small.
* Psalm 113:7-9. God's great exaltation above and beyond the created world is once again contrasted with God's special care for the world (see Psalm 8). God especially cares for the lowest members of society. This theme is of nearly universal interest for the authors of the Bible. God is particularly interested in the poor, the needy, and the childless. God searches for ways to right the inequalities of God's creatures. The poor and needy will sit with princes, and the childless woman will receive a home. (See 1 Samuel 2:4-8 and Luke 1:48-53.)
* Psalm 114:1. This psalm does not have a call to worship, nor is there a call to praise at the end. All eight verses glorify the great work of God in the Exodus experience. We hear of the escape from Egypt (verse 1), and God's provision of water in the desert (verse 8). In between, earthquake imagery adds to the picture of God's power over nations and nature.
* Psalm 121:1. Psalm 121 is one of the most familiar hymns of praise. It, like Psalm 114, does not follow the pattern of a typical psalm of praise. There is no call to worship or call to praise at the end. The mood seems noticeably different as well. No shouts for praise. No great exclamations of God's power. The psalmist seems quiet, almost contemplative. In the first verse there is a fascinating use of the traditional and the surprising. "I lift up my eyes to the mountains," the psalmist begins. One could reasonably expect to find God there. After all, Sinai is a mountain where God was found. But our psalmist goes on to ask a probing question: "Where does my help come from?" Not from the mountains. Real help comes from "the LORD, the Maker of heaven and earth," which obviously includes the mountains.
* Psalm 121:3, 4, 5, 7, 8. Note how the word watch is repeated in the psalm. This word in Hebrew means guard and protect as well as possess or hold on to. The psalmist wants to affirm that we are God's possession always (verse 8). We will be protected by God always (verses 7-8). Such quiet comfort and such powerful certainty!
* Psalm 135:1-2. This psalm is particularly directed to the priests, those special guardians of the traditions, house, and laws of God. They are the ones who "minister in the house of the LORD," and in the "courts of the house of our God."
* Psalm 135:7-12. Here we get a miniature history of Israel from Creation (verse 7) to the Promised Land (verse 12). For all of these great deeds, God is worthy of praise.
* Psalm 135:19-20. Here the priests are named as members of the house of Aaron and Levi, the traditional priestly houses in Israel.
Excerpted from "Genesis to Revelation: Psalms Participant Book"
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Table of Contents
Outline for the Psalms,
1. Hymns of Praise,
2. Hymns of Praise,
3. Songs of Zion,
4. Royal Psalms,
5. Communal Thanksgiving Psalms,
6. Individual Thanksgiving Psalms,
7. Individual Laments,
8. Individual Laments,
9. Individual Laments,
10. Individual Laments,
11. Communal Laments,
12. Wisdom Psalms,
13. Psalms of Confidence,