Category Archives: Psalms

A Literary and Exegetical Study of Psalm 42 & 43, Part II

                                 Strophic Structure

Since much of Hebrew poetry is hymnody, strophic structures are bound to occur with great frequency. A strophic structure is when a series of verses often in paralleled structures combine into one group.[1] There are two simple ways to identify a strophic structure. They are through the use of “refrain” and “alphabetic acrostic.” A “refrain” is also called a “chorus.” It is similar to the repeated parts of a hymn after each verse.[2] An example of this can be found throughout the Psalter, but most notably in Psalm 136. The Psalm uses the refrain “His lovingkindness is everlasting” in all 26 verses. Another example of a strophic structure is “alphabetic acrostic.” This refers to a poem in which each successive line or verse begins with each successive letter of the Hebrew alphabet.[3] The most familiar example is found in Psalm 119. Each section of the 176 verses is led by a letter of the Hebrew alphabet. Professor John Currid argues that these psalms are “for remembrance and it is also ornamental, decorative.”[4] These psalms were meant to be sung, recited, and remembered. They were cries of joy and sorrow from a people who hungered after their God. The modern church has forgotten our history; the psalms leave us no excuse. As James Adams has written in his insightful book War Psalms of the Prince of Peace, “The Christian Church has lost its military vision because the pulpit has been ashamed of the battle cries from the Psalms.”[5]

Due to the unfortunate division in our English Bibles between Psalm 42 and 43, this strophic structure is somewhat broken. Nevertheless, if the reader assumes this to be one hymn, the prevalent refrain of this psalm is found in chapter 42:5 and 11 and 43:5. Since this is one hymn, it can be divided in three stanzas or strophes. The refrain serves as a divider between each strophe. It is divided in the following manner: Psalm 42:1-5, Psalm 42:6-11, and Psalm 43 serves as the final strophe.

The first strophe is a lament. The psalmist hungers to be near his God in Jerusalem. In the second strophe, the psalmist laments once again over his despair.[6] The third and final strophe in chapter 43 concludes with confidence. The psalmist desires to return to the place of worship. This is an individual lament, though it is intended as a communal lament. According to Tullock, “The lament of the individual had the same basic form that communal laments had.”[7] The psalmist expresses what every covenant member desired: to be in the holy mountain (43:3).

Again, Tullock observes that confidence is a subclass of the psalms of lament. It is then appropriate that Psalm 43 ends with confidence that the writer will “go to the altar of God, To God my exceeding joy; And upon the lyre I shall praise You, O God, my God” (43:4). This confidence ends with the reality of the refrain that one day the psalmist will praise God unhindered by present circumstances.


[1] John D. Currid, from Judges through Poets course. Audio Lecture 11A.[2] Since much of Hebrew strophes are like hymns, I offer this simple example. One of my favorite hymns is entitled: Christ Shall Have Dominion, based on Psalm 72. The refrain of that hymn is: “Christ shall have dominion over land and sea, earth’s remotest regions shall his empire be.” Revised Trinity Hymnal, 439.[3] John D. Currid, from Judges through Poets course. Audio Lecture 10B.

[4] Ibid.

[5] James E. Adams, War Psalm of the Prince of Peace (Phillipsburg, New Jersey: P&R, 1991), 77.

[6] Psalm 42:7 reads: “… all your waves and breakers have swept over me (NIV).” The waves indicate chaos. The psalmist is troubled and his soul is downcast (vs. 6).

[7] John H. Tullock, The Old Testament Story. Fifth Ed. (Upper Saddle River, New Jersey: Prentice Hall, 2000), 338.

A Literary and Exegetical Study of Psalm 42 & 43, Part I

The Psalter is at the heart of Biblical Christianity. It enlivens the soul and gives greater fullness to Biblical Revelation. It is impossible to conceive of special revelation apart from the Songs of Zion.[1] Furthermore, in the words of Professor Bruce Waltke:

The Psalter advances significantly the Bible’s message that God’s kingdom is irrupting into the world for his glory and our good.[2]

Indeed the hymnody of the church has been enriched when she sings from God’s songbook.[3] In a powerful way, God’s kingdom irrupts through songs of praise and lament.

The Psalter serves as a corporate call to worship. It is a strong rebuke to our individualistic society because it demands a corporate response. The people of God are drawn to the God of the Psalms. He is their creator and the heavens tell of his glory (Ps.19:1). The earth stands still at his majesty (Ps. 68:34) and the kingdoms of this world will be the kingdoms of our God (Ps. 110).

Though the Psalms are perhaps the most familiar to modern readers, it does not mean that modern readers grasp its significance, or further, the proper hermeneutic to understanding the Psalter. This paper attempts to shed light on two Psalms: Chapters 42 and 43.[4]

The Harmony of Psalms 42 and 43

The reader will note from a first glimpse of these two psalms that there is a certain harmony between them. Almost all psalms are accompanied by a brief statement called the “superscription” or a “title.” In some cases, superscriptions also indicate the authorship of the psalm. For instance, the title of Psalm 52 reads: “For the director of music. A maskil of David. When Doeg the Edomites had gone to Saul and told him: ‘David has gone to the house of Ahimelech.’ “[5] In this Psalm, the superscription reveals not only the Davidic authorship, but also the circumstance surrounding the psalm. Some scholars argue that the superscriptions are later additions to the Psalms. As evidence, scholars cite superscriptions that appear to be dated differently from the content of the psalm itself[6] and that the superscriptions do not harmonize with the content of the psalm. Though a minority view, it is best to understand these superscriptions as authentic.[7] For instance, Paul’s quotation of Psalm 32 in Romans 4 affirms Davidic authorship. However, Psalm 32 says nothing about Davidic authorship, but the superscription identifies the psalm as authored by David. Hence, Paul must have trusted the titles as authentic parts of the psalm itself.[8]

Psalm 42 introduces Book II of the Psalter that takes the reader to Psalm 72.[9] Its subscription reads: “For the director of music. A maskil of the Sons of Korah.”[10] Psalm 43 lacks a title. For this reason-and others-many have concluded that the absence of a title in a section where almost every psalm is titled, means that these two psalms were originally one. Furthermore, a common refrain of lament is repeated thrice in Psalm 42:5,11 and 43:5:

Why are you in despair, O my soul?
And why have you become disturbed within me?
Hope in God, for I shall again praise Him
For the help of His presence.[11]

These reasons affirm the harmony/unity of these psalms.


[1] Some months ago, Professor Dr. W. Robert Godfrey was asked what book he would take to a desert island. His answer was unequivocally the Psalter.[2] Bruce K. Waltke, An Old Testament Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2007), 870.[3] This is not an indication that the Psalter is the only hymnody of the church, nevertheless, in some cases it has become a forgotten hymnal. I strongly urge a return to them.[4] This paper will use various translations in the process, though the NASB will be used with greater frequency, since it was Professor Currid’s main translation during the course.

[5] Pratt, Richard, ed. Spirit of the Reformation Study Bible: NIV (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2003), 858.

[6] Kirkpatrick argues that Psalm 69 was written after David’s death, hence it cannot be a legitimate part of the Psalter. See John D. Currid, from Judges through Poets course notes (Audio Lecture 13B)

[7] Professor Currid persuaded me of this position in his audio lecture 13A and B. See also Waltke’s brief defense of the superscriptions in his new Theology of the Old Testament. Bruce K. Waltke, An Old Testament Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2007), 871-874.

[8] Professor Currid also defends this position by citing OT examples and extra-biblical examples for the authenticity of the superscriptions. Waltke notes that like Psalms 42-43, Psalms 9-10 were also “unified psalms and later divided for liturgical reasons…” Waltke, K. Bruce, An Old Testament Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2007), 884.

[9] The Psalms is divided into five books: 1-41; 42-72; 73-89;90-106; and 107-50.

[10] Richard Pratt, ed. Spirit of the Reformation Study Bible: NIV (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2003), 846.

[11] Quotation from the New American Standard of the Bible.

The Defender of the Church

Psalm 129 is a Psalm of great comfort to the church of Christ. Amidst turmoil, God promises that the enemies of Zion1 will be put to shame and turned backward.2 God promises that His glorious church ever shall prevail. As Calvin so perfectly summarized the purpose for the church’s suffering:

…that God subjects his Church to divers troubles and affections, to the end he may the better prove himself her deliverer and defender.3

Footnotes

  1. Zion hear is a metaphor for where the reign of God is manifested, namely, among the church of God. [ back]
  2. Psalm 129:5 [ back]
  3. Commentary on Psalm 129 [ back]

C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity: Analysis and Application Part XIV, Lewis on false hope

Let us return to the Basics of the Christian Faith. The Psalmist teaches us that the eyes of the Lord are on those who fear him and hope in His steadfast love.[1] Yet this clear reality is overshadowed by our naïve thought that love could be found elsewhere. We find ourselves making idols, substituting God for our vain imagination. We desire the new, the most complete, the technologically advanced, and the best the world has to offer us.

Those who hope on these things find themselves craving for them again and again, and never able to hope for that which is True, Beautiful, Unchangeable, and All-Loving. Returning to the Basics of the Christian faith entails hoping in God alone and what He offers. But the way of the fool as the Proverb contrasts is the way to destruction. As Lewis states:

He puts the blame on the things themselves. He goes on his life thinking that if he just found the right woman, stayed at a more expensive hotel, he would be happier. He is looking for “the Real Thing.”[2]

This real thing is just a contrivance from the devil himself who seeks to devour. This real thing is sometimes mixed with that which is pure, but it must never be seen as pure. If man hopes in any such thing, he has deceived himself and the truth does not abide in him.

 


[1] Psalm 33:18

[2] Mere Christianity, pg. 120.

Psalm Singing

tissot-david-singing427x620.jpgThe debate over Psalm singing is particularly discussed in Reformed circles. The issue involves adherence to the “regulative principle,” which affirms that only that which is in the Scriptures is to be practiced in the church. Some have come to accept the practice of exclusive Psalm singing (exclusive Psalmnody). They argue the Bible does not offer other forms of singing in the Scriptures, ergo, God has left the church with 150 Psalms. While Psalm singing is desirable in Sabbath worship or private worship, it is necessary to realize that the texts used to defend Psalm singing are commonly misinterpreted. There are primarily two texts used. Edmund Clowney in his respected volume on the church writes:

Those who insist that the church should sing Biblical Psalms exclusively need to consider more carefully the apostle’s words in Colossians 3:16 and Ephesians 5:18-20. It is the wisdom that is the enduement of the Spirit-filled church, taught by the Word of Christ, that enables to admonish and teach one another; they do so in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs. Paul’s expression shows that he is thinking of the wisdom that composes psalms, and therefore not of the psalms of David. Nor do his words refer to inspired compositions exclusively. The context of his use of spiritual wisdom in Colossians 1:19, his prayers for wisdom, and his charge to walk in wisdom show that he thinks of the wisdom of the Spirit as the daily need of every Christian, not a gift of revelation to bring the Word of Christ (136).

Clowney finds the theme of this passage “wisdom,” not a prescribed form of worship. Granted, Psalm singing is edifying and needful; the church today lacks a catechized youth because the Scriptures are not sung nor are they brought to memorization. Surely the singing of God’s Word facilitates immensely this process. Nevertheless, there is a fundamental concern that must be addressed. Exclusive Psalm-singers argue that only Scriptures can carry the intensity and loveliness of worship. Since it is the only writing in which there can be found no error and since it claims self-authentication, ergo, it is the only prescribed form of worship. Any singing that is non-scriptural runs the serious risk of raising voices to a fallible and erroneous composition. This logic urges worshipers to consider their sinful natures and their conspicuous tendency to err. This is a critique worth considering and must come to the attention of the composer and the worshiper as he lifts his voice to glorify his Maker.

Greg Bahnsen answers the argument raised by exclusive Psalm-singers (these arguments must not be thrown out as infantile, but should be considered and learned from – for a profitable discussion of exclusive Psalm-singing see Bahnsen’s discussion) by noting that:

…to prohibit congregational singing of anything but the Old Testament psalms is an unwarranted addition to the word of God (cf. Deut.4:2) and – ironically – a violation of the regulative principle of worship thereby. The crucial question is this: Where in Scripture does God restrict His people to singing only the songs in the book of Psalms? No such restriction can be demonstrated. Those who try to infer it end up relying on fallacious arguments. Those who insist that we must positively demonstrate that anything we sing has the explicit warrant of Scripture have misunderstood and misapplied the “regulative principle” – on a par with somebody who would hold that the very words of our prayers and sermons must have the explicit warrant of Scripture.

Bahnsen’ s main argument rests on the fact that if we are to follow the logic of Psalm-singers who claim to be adherents of the “Regulative Principle,” we must further apply this to all of worship. This means we must carefully commit all our prayers to reflect word-for-word or thought-for-thought the prayers found throughout Scriptures.

In conclusion, though exclusive Psalm singing is wrong, Psalm singers exemplify, if perhaps a bit extreme, the sincere urge to commit our minds and our voices to the worship of our God in words that lift, adore, praise, magnify, and reflect the grandeur of our Great God. May all of us be ever mindful of the duty of worshipping God in beauty and authentic spirit-led adoration.

Michael Savage the Theologian? Correcting terminologies…

aboutmichael_savage.jpg Instead of the usual “HELLO INFIDELS” introduction, Michael Savage, host of the “Savage Nation,” began his popular talk show program by boasting in the success of his most recent book: The Enemy Within. Believe it or not, good ol’ Savage is ahead of Clinton’s Memoir in many big cities in the country. It is really no big surprise that Clinton’s 950-page self-pitying, self-congratulatory tome is not reaching all the expectations that the former president thought it would. To top it off, the New York Times wrote a scathing review denouncing Clinton’s book as ” poorly written,” and “written in a hurry.” In yesterday’s post, Matt Drudge reported at least ten different cities in which the book seems to be in dire straits. It is not that My Life has not sold copies, in fact, it has even broken some records, but these records are not what were expected.

Michael Savage dealt with a few other, uh, let’s say “touchy issues.” He denounced, without any moment’s hesitation that Saudi terrorists are “sub-human.” “They are inferior to you and I,” he screamed. Now, let me see if I can be subtly theological without spoiling my political post. While our hatred towards terrorist actions (such as the recent beheading of two Americans and a South Korean) is justifiable, there is one fundamental presupposition we must carry amidst conflict or war (such as the one we are in right now); this presupposition is that all men are created in God’s image (Genesis 1:26-28).

It is indeed difficult to conceive how such savages can so calmly and seemingly without any remorse cut one’s throat and still be called human, but the Scriptures still put all men in one category. Your heart and my heart cries for justice; we long to see these men punished as severely as their victims. We are infuriated with the extent of their religiosity and radical commitment to annihilate all that looks, sounds, and tastes Western. At the same time, we confuse categories by calling them “sub-human,” as if by putting them in a separate group we restore our own goodness or our innocence. To quote an unpopular verse, ” all our actions are as filthy garments.”

Of course, our actions are not as theirs, but our hearts are. It is corrupted and despicably depraved. We are still in need of cleansing, still in need of purification, we are still as wicked savages killing each other with our minds and seeking justice with our own hands.

So, should we seek justice? Yes. Are terrorists sub-human? No. But in what ways can we tie these two truths? Let me suggest that the imprecatory Psalms are one way. Yes, they are for God’s people and are to be sung, prayed, and read by God’s people. Secondly, we cishmaelite_prayer_gallery.jpgan pray that human justice will prevail and that they will be punished accordingly. And finally, we can keep bad people in the same category as “civilized society” (as some call the west). There is no such category as “sub-human.” All men are lost, whether be American or Saudi  until Christ by His Spirit conquers the hearts of men. In the end, our hope is that God’s justice, which has passed over us because of His love, may be applied to those whom He hates (Psalms 5:5).