The Psalms: Key Insights for Reading God's Word

The Psalms: Key Insights for Reading God's Word

by Brian Webster, David R. Beach

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780310286899
Publisher: Zondervan
Publication date: 09/14/2010
Series: Essential Bible Companion SeriesSeries Series
Pages: 192
Sales rank: 693,124
Product dimensions: 7.30(w) x 9.10(h) x 0.60(d)
Age Range: 18 Years

About the Author

Brian L. Webster (Ph.D) is Professor of Old Testament Studies at Dallas Theological Seminary. He did his doctoral work at the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion. He is a homeschooling father of four and a Youth Leader at his church.



David R. Beach (M.A.) is a licensed counselor who studied under Dr. Dan Allender at Mars Hill Graduate School. He teaches spiritual formation and psychology courses at Cornerstone University. He also co-founded Soul Seasons with his wife Cynthia - a workshop based ministry focused on spiritual and creative formation.

Read an Excerpt

The Essential Bible Companion to the Psalms

Key Insights for Reading God's Word
By Brian L. Webster David R. Beach

Zondervan

Copyright © 2010 Brian Webster and David Beach
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-310-28689-9


Chapter One

Psalm 1

THEME: A righteous individual is established and prospers by attending to God's Word.

TYPE: Wisdom, possibly royal.

AUTHOR: Unknown.

BACKGROUND: Most Israelites did not own scrolls and did not have a copy of the law of Moses (Genesis through Deuteronomy). Only priests, scribes, perhaps the very rich, and the king had regular access to the written Word of God. Deuteronomy 17:18-20 instructed the king to make his own copy of the Law. He was to read it every day to learn to fear and obey God so that he and his descendants would prosper. Psalm 1 admonishes him to read God's Law regularly to differentiate between wickedness and righteousness in order to prosper, and it implies the Psalter should be read in a similar light.

STRUCTURE: The psalm has three parts, each containing a contrast. Verses 1-2 contrast the influence one chooses, the counsel of the wicked or the Law of God. Verses 3-4 contrast a well-watered tree with chaff as an image of the enduring strength that comes from the choice in verses 1-2. Verses 5-6 directly contrast the fate of the wicked and the righteous.

SPECIAL NOTES: Chaff refers to the dry fragments of the shell-type coverings of grain seeds. After the coverings are broken off, the light chaff and the heavy seeds are separated by tossing them into the air so that the wind blows away the chaff.

Law. The Psalms' poetry typically uses different words with similar meanings to refer to the same idea. Here the word Law, or Torah, is used in both parts of verse 2. Torah is also the Hebrew title for the "Law of Moses."

REFLECTION: Like the theme song of an album, Psalm 1 sets a tone for reading the Psalter; it places us at a fork in life's road. We're invited by way of metaphors to consider the paths and where they lead. One is living, flourishing-a vibrant fruit tree; the other is dead-empty hulls, chaff blowing away in the wind. Like poetic commentary on Deuteronomy 30:19-20, "I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life.... For the Lord is your life," righteousness and wickedness parallel life and death. Everyone with access to the written Word of God should follow the example in the psalm. Study and meditation are necessary for knowing God's ways, but in turn God "watches over the way of the righteous." God says through this song, "Stay in the way of the righteous. I will plant you like a well-watered tree, and you will be blessed."

Psalm2

THEME: The Lord has established his king on Zion. Worship the Lord; honor the king.

TYPE: Royal.

AUTHOR: Unknown.

BACKGROUND: Likely used when crowning the king, perhaps first for Solomon and subsequently for all the sons of David. But it was not necessarily limited to the king's coronation ceremony.

STRUCTURE: The psalm has four main sections with three verses each. Stanza 1 (vv. 1-3) poses the problem of planned rebellion. Stanza 2 (vv. 4-6) responds with the Lord's self-assured attitude. Stanza 3 (vv. 7-9) extends that perspective with the king's confidence in the Lord's support. Finally, stanza 4 (vv. 10-12) admonishes the people of the proper response to the Lord and the king.

SPECIAL NOTES: The psalm makes several points by reporting the words of different people. Foreign rulers speak in section 1; the Lord speaks in section 2; the king speaks and quotes the Lord in section 3. Section 4 is like the words of a herald addressing the people.

REFLECTION: We may reflect on the psalm with a question for each stanza. Stanza 1: What do people think they can do? Stanza 2: What does God think of their ideas? Stanza 3: Who is in charge? Stanza 4: So how should we respond?

When plans are being laid and people are taking sides but the outcome is not known, it may be tempting to follow a particular group. But the greatest freedom and security are found under the authority of God.

Psalm 3

THEME: The king is very confident in God's protection, despite many opponents who say God will not deliver him.

TYPE: Individual lament, royal.

AUTHOR: A psalm (mizmor) of David. When he fled from his son Absalom.

BACKGROUND: Second Samuel 15-18 records when David fled from his rebelling son Absalom to the wilderness of Judah. Absalom succeeded in taking the throne temporarily but was later killed in battle.

STRUCTURE: The psalm has five sections. It begins with a complaint, verses 1-2, then moves to its main element in two statements of confidence in verses 3-4 and 5-6. Verse 7 delivers the petition. In conclusion the king affirms God and prays for his blessing on the people in verse 8.

SPECIAL NOTES: David had to leave Jerusalem, but God heard him from his "holy mountain," a reference to Jerusalem that also echoes Psalm 2:6. While the picture surely looked bleak for David when he had to flee the capital city, he expressed a great degree of confidence in his ability to lie down and sleep in verse 5, a picture that occurs only here and in Psalm 4:8. It has led some to view Psalm 3 as a morning prayer and Psalm 4 as an evening prayer.

REFLECTION: Immediately after the first two introductory psalms, a coup d'état in the royal family catches us by surprise. Rebellion and conflict come not from the nations in Psalm 2 nor from a rival king, but from betrayal within David's own house. The anointed king, far from ruling with a rod of iron or dashing enemies like pottery, flees to old familiar haunts in the wilderness. There he remembers the Lord's deliverance from the hand of Saul. He remembers the Lord, his shield, and turns to him.

How often has the greatest grief come from within our own families, our own communities of faith-allies turning antagonists, friends becoming betrayers? David has preceded us in such circumstances and given us words.

Psalm 4

THEME: God hears the godly; David will entrust himself to God.

TYPE: Mixed: confidence, instruction. The initial call for deliverance and presence of opponents in the psalm suggests it is a lament, but the bulk of the psalm expresses confidence in God. Half the psalm does not address God but acts as instruction to the people.

AUTHOR: A psalm (mizmor) of David. For the director of music. With stringed instruments.

BACKGROUND: The specific background is uncertain, but the phrase "lie down and sleep" provides a link to Psalm 3, which is traditionally related to David's conflict with Absalom (2 Sam. 15-18).

STRUCTURE: The psalm has five sections. The psalm begins with an initial appeal for God to listen in verse 1. Then it shifts to address the people with a rhetorical question in verse 2 and answers the question by proclaiming confidence that God hears the "faithful servant" (perhaps originally meaning the king) in verse 3. In the third section, the psalmist admonishes the people to fidelity to the Lord (vv. 4-5). Next he contrasts the hopeless thoughts of others with a confident request for the Lord's attention (vv. 6-7). In the last section, the psalmist makes himself an example of trusting the Lord (v. 8).

SPECIAL NOTES: Lying down to sleep as a picture of confidence occurs only here and in Psalm 3:5. It has led some to view Psalm 3 as a morning prayer and Psalm 4 as an evening prayer.

Paul quotes the Greek translation of Psalm 4:4 in Ephesians 4:26.

REFLECTION: One of the early church fathers, Chrysostom, once said that if he could preach to the whole world, he would choose Psalm 4:2. This verse presents God's perennial lament: "How long will you men turn my glory into shame? How long will you love delusions and seek false gods?" How profound that the God of the universe should lament to us.

Also, the psalmist, while in the nexus between distress and deliverance, chooses to stand in confidence: he "hears when I call to him" (v. 3); "You alone, Lord, make me dwell in safety" (v. 8). His fear, mentioned in the previous psalm, has subsided. With confidence he prays, "Give me relief from my distress" (v. 1), and lies down to rest in safety. Confidence joined to faith is a great sleep aid.

Psalm 5

THEME: God does not tolerate the wicked but protects those who trust him.

TYPE: Individual lament.

AUTHOR: A psalm (mizmor) of David. For the director of music. For pipes.

BACKGROUND: No specifics are known, but the psalm indicates that David has adversaries who speak lies and plot harm against him.

STRUCTURE: The initial appeal in verses 1-2 is completed by the last verse of the psalm. In between are two stanzas of seven lines each (vv. 3-7 and vv. 8-11; vv. 3, 7, 10, and 11 each contain two poetic lines). The first seven-line stanza asserts the basis for the psalmist's petition; the second makes the petition.

SPECIAL NOTES: Mention of the temple in verse 7 may imply that the title of the psalm be understood as being for the Davidic heir rather than for David himself, since the temple was not built in David's lifetime. David, however, might be referring to the Lord's heavenly temple.

Paul quotes the Greek translation of Psalm 5:9 in Romans 3:13a (as well as refer ring to Pss. 14:1-3 and 140:3 in the same part of Rom. 3).

REFLECTION: A holy God will not put up with the wicked. But the psalmist can approach God with reverence because of his great love. While it is preferable for the wicked to repent, God is asked to show his justice by giving the wicked their dues. Dealing out consequences for evil instructs all of society in justice. The unrepentant do not get a pass. Taking refuge in God entails more than wanting benefits from him; it implies allegiance to and dependence on him.

(Continues...)



Excerpted from The Essential Bible Companion to the Psalms by Brian L. Webster David R. Beach Copyright © 2010 by Brian Webster and David Beach. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Contents

Acknowledgments....................7
Overview....................11
In This Book....................12
Perspectives on the Psalter....................13
The Psalms as Songs....................13
The Psalms as Ceremony....................13
The Psalms as Prayers....................14
The Psalms as Book....................14
Groups of Psalms in the Psalter....................15
Types of Psalms....................15
Hymns....................15
Hymns of Praise....................16
Hymns of Thanksgiving....................16
Hymns of Praise/Thanksgiving....................16
Hymns of the Lord's Kingship....................16
Hymns: Zion Songs....................16
Laments/Cries for Help: Individual or Communal....................16
Psalms of Confidence....................17
Royal Psalms....................17
Liturgy Psalms....................17
Instructional and Wisdom Psalms....................18
Collections and Arrangements in the Psalter....................18
Superscriptions....................18
Persons....................18
Historical Information....................19
Classifications....................19
Musical Aspects....................20
Collections....................20
Psalms of Asaph....................20
Psalms of the Sons of Korah....................20
Songs of Ascents....................20
Hallelujah Psalms....................21
The Five Books....................21
The Poetry of the Psalms....................23
Personalizing the Psalms....................25
Unusual Terms Found in the Psalter....................29
Hebrew References to God....................29
Types of Psalms....................30
Common Elements of the Psalms....................31
Explanation of Titles....................31
Index of Verses....................31

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