Old Testament Poetic Books, 5

Ps1 1

In our previous Old Testament Poetic Books’ classes, we covered the introductory issues for the Psalter. These issues included the title for the Psalter, other items related to the individual authors for each psalm, the development of the book of Psalms from the earliest psalm (the superscription of Psalm 90 indicates that Moses was the author) to the post-exilic psalms (e.g., Ps 137), editorial notes (such as the superscriptions and Selah), the nature of the Psalms, and the classification of the Psalms.

Let me give a few more details about the nature of psalms. We looked at psalms being made up of religious lyric poetry, evocative language, parallelism, the historical setting for some of the psalms, and the three part structure for each psalm.

For example, in examining a psalm as religious lyric poetry, we observed that poetry is a language of images and the use of comparisons. It is more highly concentrated and its structure is more highly structured than prose. In addition, lyric poetry is characterized by its abbreviated nature. Finally, religious lyric poetry is the communication of a poets thoughts and feelings as prompted by his understanding of God and His work. These sing of Yahweh’s creation of the earth and His past deliverance. They rejoice over the Law and celebrate various aspects of worship.

Again, in treating the three-part structure for each psalm, a psalm is made up of these parts: subject, development of the subject, and conclusion. (1) The subject (also called “topic”) is generally contained in the first few verses of a psalm. For example, the subject of Psalm 23 is found in v. 1: because the Lord is David’s shepherd, he lacks nothing. This is to say, v. 1 focuses on David’s theological thoughts about God’s rich provisions for him. (2) The development of the subject is the major part of a poem’s structure. There are a few ways that the subject may be developed in a psalm. One of these ways involves listing items that develop a subject. Psalm 23 is the most familiar example of this. In supporting David’s subject of God’s rich provisions for him, he itemizes a number of God’s provisions such as rest (v. 2a), restoration (v 2b), moral direction (v. 3), and protection (vv. 4-5). (3) The conclusion of a psalm may be found in a summary, as in Psalm 1:6, a prayer, Psalm 19:14, an exhortation, Psalm 19:14, or even a climax as in Psalm 23:6b: ” I shall dwell in the house of the LORD forever.”

With our next class, we will analyze a few key psalms according to their genre and begin looking at Proverbs.

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Old Testament Poetic Books, 4

Job

In my Old Testament Poetic Books class, we finished Job a few weeks back and began looking at the Psalms last week. This post will summarize both classes.

After examining the interchange between Job and his “friends,” including Elihu, none of the friends provide the solution to Job’s dilemma. Only God can provide the resolution. So God responds in Job 38-42. In the final analysis, God demonstrates that this is a theocentric world. He is its sovereign who freely and accurately administers justice. And, his servants must faithfully submit to his sovereign control. Job got the point and I trust that we do, as well.

As we began to look at Psalms, we looked at introductory issues such as title, authorship, and the historical development of the book of the Psalter. I developed in class the our book of Psalms is composed of five books that were collected between 1400 to 400 B.C. The fivefold collection breaks down like this.

Book 1 Psalms 1–41 (in Greek text, 1–40)

Book 2 Psalms 42–72 (in Greek text, 41–71)

Book 3 Psalms 73–89 (in Greek text, 72–88)

Book 4 Psalms 90–106 (in Greek text, 89–105)

Book 5 Psalms 107–150 (in Greek text, 106–150, with the addition of Ps 151)

With our next class or two, we will further a fuller understanding and greater appreciation of the Psalms.

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An Apologia for the 24-Hour Day View in the Creation Account (Part 3)

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On Friday, March 20, I began a three-part series at Sharper Iron defending the 24-hour day interpretation of the creation account. As I noted in my first part, because the tradition of Christian orthodoxy has a legacy of interpreting Genesis as a historic narrative, the prevailing interpretation of Genesis 1:1–2:3 has been that it is a record of God’s creative activity in six, consecutive, literal days followed by a literal seventh day of rest. The point of my first post was to provide a fourfold biblical justification for the 24-hour day interpretation of the creation account.

With my second post, I summarized four of the most prominent alternative views that have arisen largely as a result of the advent of modern geology and its claims about the (old) age of the earth.

With my third and final part that is posted today, I present three areas of weakness and a questionable presupposition that each view shares. To read this third post, go to “An Apologia for the 24-Hour Day View in the Creation Account (Part 3).”

What I Am Reading on the Book of Psalms

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Today was the first day for my summer class on Understanding the Psalms. In doing research for my class, John Goldingay’s two volumes on Psalms 1-89 are a welcome addition to the growing number of commentaries on the Psalter. Psalms, vol. 1: Psalms 1-41 and Psalms, vol. 2: Psalms 42-89 are the first two installments of a projected three-volume commentary on the book of Psalms (Psalms, vol. 3: Psalms 90-150 is scheduled to be released by Baker in November of 2008). This three-volume work is part of Baker Book’s projected six-volume series, Baker Commentary on the Old Testament Wisdom and Psalms.

After a 58-page introduction to Psalms, Goldingay’s first volume treats Psalms 1-41. With each psalm in both volumes, he provides his own translation, followed by a section on interpretation and theological implications. Each volume is concluded with a glossary, bibliography, indices referencing subjects, authors, scripture and other ancient writings.

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In this multi-volume work on the Psalms, John Goldingay, a prolific Old Testament scholar, combines thorough exegetical work with an ability to communicate the message of each psalm. The inherent substance of this multi-volume set is his exegetical interaction with the Hebrew text. However, while providing thorough exegetical insight, Goldingay writes in such a way that the message of each psalm is assessable to seminary students, pastors and scholars. Dr. Goldingay’s first two-volumes on Psalms is a refreshing acquisition to the exegetical resources I have collected on the Psalter. Whether you are preparing a Bible study on Psalms 1–89 or a sermon, both of these volumes will be a valuable asset to your study. I look forward to the release of the third volume in November.

Psalm 2 & David’s Dynasty

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In an earlier post, "Introduction to the Psalms," I said that I was going to examine six genres found in the book of Psalms: (1) lament, (2) praise, (3) thanksgiving, (4) kingship & covenant renewal, (5) trust, and (6) wisdom; however, my plan was to discuss these genres as they appeared in their canonical ordering. As such, we initially looked at Psalm 1, the first wisdom psalm, with two posts: "The Wisdom of Psalm 1" and "Applying the Wisdom of Psalm 1." With this post, we will begin an examination of Psalm 2, one of the theocratic kingship psalms that are a subcategory of the larger category entitled the kingship & covenant renewal genre. The psalms in this genre celebrate and affirm loyalty to God as King, the theocratic king, and God’s covenant. This category has three subcategories. First, divine kingship psalms celebrate the LORD’s sovereign rule over the universe. The psalms in this category are 24, 29, 47, 93, 95, 96, 97, 98, 99. Second, theocratic kingship psalms, also often referred to as “royal psalms,” celebrate the Davidic dynasty and its universal kingdom. These psalms are joined by their focus on Israel’s earthly king. These psalms have the Davidic Covenant in 2 Samuel 7 (also 1 Chr 17) as their foundation. These psalms may focus on the importance of the Davidic line and its relationship to God as in Psalms 2, 89, 132. Psalm 18 is a royal thanksgiving psalm. Psalm 20 requests God’s blessing on the king. Psalm 45 focuses on a royal wedding. Therefore, the emphasis of these psalms is on the Davidic king but it can refer to various phases of kingship. The remaining royal psalms are 21, 72, 101, 110, 144. The theocratic kingship psalms are especially significant for Christians because they provide the background and at times find their culmination in our Lord Jesus Christ. Third, two psalms, 50 and 81, are intended to encourage Israel to renew her allegiance to God and the Mosaic Covenant (Fee and Stuart, How to Read the Bible, p. 176). I will analyze a key psalm from each of these subcategories. Because of God’s absolute sovereign control over his creation, we could begin this portion of our study with the divine kingship psalms. However, Psalm 2 with its focus on the sovereign rule of the Davidic king and Psalm 1 with its emphasis on the godly man’s relationship to the Law appropriately serve as an introduction to the Psalter. Having covered Psalm 1, our attention will now focus on Psalm 2 as an example of a royal genre.

This category of psalm is based entirely upon the thematic elements of God’s promised Davidic dynasty and his universal kingdom. Thus, the theocratic kingship psalms are set apart from other psalm categories by their emphasis on Israel’s king. As such, these psalms may also be referred to as “royal” or even “messianic” psalms, as is found in popular literature. Because this category does not include rhetorical elements, a theocratic kingship psalm may also be lament psalm as is the case in Psalm 144 or a thanksgiving psalm as in Psalm 18. When I interpret a psalm as a lament psalm, such as in Psalm 144 and clearly see a thematic emphasis on Israel’s king, I categorize this as a “royal lament.” Since Psalm 18 is a thanksgiving psalm and it has a focus on the success of the Davidic dynasty (see vv. 43–50), this would be a “royal thanksgiving psalm.”

In these psalms Israel’s king may be specifically referred to as “David,” the “king” or “anointed.” These psalms are predicated upon the promises given to David in the Davidic Covenant (see 2 Sam 7 and 1 Chr 17). The promises given in the Davidic Covenant focused upon David’s having an eternal and universal kingdom and a ruling dynasty, which, in light of progressive revelation, culminates in Jesus Christ. These promises are incorporated into many aspects of the theocratic kingship psalms. The Davidic Covenant is the prophetic foundation upon which many of the prophetic elements are poetically set forth in this type of psalm. Consequently, the theocratic kingship psalms may contain prophetic elements that point directly or indirectly to Jesus the Messiah and his universal kingdom (see Wendland, Analyzing the Psalms, pp. 49–50). However, because most of these psalms do not find an immediate fulfillment in Jesus Christ, I prefer to call them either "theocratic kingship" or "royal" psalms. However, there is in my opinion one royal psalm, Psalm 110, that is the most directly Messianic psalm (see the helpful article by Detroit Baptist Theological Seminary’s assistant librarian, John Aloisi, "Who Is David’s Lord? Another Look at Psalm 110:1," Detroit Baptist Seminary Journal, 10 (2005) [this article may be obtained by clicking here or by mailing your request to Detroit Baptist Seminary Journal, 4801 Allen Road, Allen Park, MI 48101]).

With this post, my objective has been to introduce you to the kingship & covenant renewal genre, with a more specific focus on the theocratic kingship psalms, with Psalms 2 as our focus. In the next two posts, I will focus on the development of Psalm 2’s message.

Applying the Wisdom of Psalm 1

With my post on September 23, “The Wisdom of Psalm 1,” we saw that Psalm 1 is a wisdom psalm that has a precise structural arrangement. Presently, I will identify the basic message of this psalm with a focus on its contemporary applicability.

Initially, we should look for the subject of Psalm 1. What is helpful to remember is that various writers of the psalms introduce their subjects within the first few verses of each psalm. In Psalm 1 the subject is found in v. 1: “the blessedness of the godly man.”

The psalmist develops his subject by using a prolonged contrast between two types of people: the godly and ungodly. The verses of this psalm fall into three structural units. In the first unit, vv. 1–3, the author develops his theme by contrasts. He begins v. 1 with a pronouncement of blessedness on the godly man. A contrast immediately follows by picturing the blessed man avoiding the wicked man’s influence. In v. 2 the psalmist gives the basis for the blessed man’s godliness, his commitment to the Law, and illustrates in v. 3 the extent of his blessedness. The second unit in vv. 4–5 begins with a contrast, “the ungodly are not so.” This is to say, the ungodly do not receive the blessings that the godly receive. The psalmist then illustrates their unstable life in the remainder of v. 4. In v. 5 he concludes the second unit by describing the judgment of the wicked. He once again draws a contrast by indicating that the ungodly will be separated from the godly. The third unit, v. 6, contrasts the godly and ungodly. The godly have a special relationship with the LORD but the ungodly will perish.

To correlate the message of Psalm 1 with a contemporary setting, we should start by observing that the Hebrew term translated as “blessed,” in v. 1, denotes that joyous condition of those living under the Mosaic Covenant who in faith worshipped and followed the Lord of the Covenant, Yahweh. We can correlate this today with those who are living for God’s approval, as a consequence of having been justified by faith. In short, the subject of this psalm is living with God’s approval. Verses 2–6 indicate that those living with God’s approval are motivated by God’s approval of them. Psalm 1’s big idea is that God’s approval provokes godly living. An expository outline of this psalm would look like this.

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With its presentation of the godly man and his relationship to the Law, Psalm 1 is the first of two psalms that introduce the book of Psalms (note how the use of the term “blessed” at the beginning of Psalm 1:1 and as one of the last few words in Psalm 2:12 provides a rhetorical connection between the two psalms as an envelope construction). Psalm 2 with its emphasis on the sovereign rule of the Davidic king completes a two-psalm introduction to the Psalter. With a subsequent post, we will look at Psalm 2.

The Wisdom of Psalm 1

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As introduced in my previous post, the first wisdom psalm in the Psalter is Psalm 1. Besides this psalm, I place ten other psalms into this wisdom category (15, 36, 37, 49, 73, 112, 119, 127, 128, 133). Wisdom psalms share common features with other Old Testament wisdom literature, such as Job, Proverbs and Ecclesiastes. More specifically, Psalm 1 has thematic similarities with the book of Proverbs. Like Proverbs, Psalm 1 contrasts the righteous and the wicked by emphasizing God’s blessing on the righteous, those who in faith obey the Law, and God’s judgment on the wicked. And, like Proverbs, the didactic thrust of Psalm 1 is to direct the people of God into a godly lifestyle.Psalm 1 develops these similar themes in a structured way, broadly arranged into the following units of thought: the way of the godly, vv. 1–3, the way of the wicked, vv. 4–5, and a summary contrasting the two ways, v. 6, with v. 6a summarizing vv. 1–3 and v. 6b vv. 4–5. We could picture the overall structure like this:

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A more detailed analysis reveals the psalm’s intricate structure.

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Based upon this structural arrangement of this psalm, my next post will develop the message of Psalm 1 with a focus on its contemporary application.

Introduction to Psalms

 

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This picture is taken from www.jrbell.com.The canonical book of Psalms has historically been one of the most influential portions of the Old Testament. The Psalter, as it is also called, is a collection of psalms compiled and arranged over almost a thousand years. The final collection we possess was used for worship in the second temple. Significantly, like their Old Testament predecessors, New Testament saints too used the Psalms as a guide for their worship of the Triune God.While much of Scripture involves God speaking to man, the book of Psalms expresses man’s response to his Covenant Lord. The various writers of psalms provide inscripturated responses of worship to their Sovereign in the midst of the heights and depths of life. And, because the various writers of the Psalms lived in the same sin-cursed world as we New Testament believers do and worshipped the same God, the Psalms have continuing practical value for us. Further, the writers of the Psalms, while composing their religious lyric poetry from a wide spectrum of emotional heights and depths of life, intended for other believers to identify with them as they pray to and praise their Covenant Lord. Thus, by the nature of the inspired poetry found in the Psalter, the Psalms have great value for Christians.My objective is to develop a series of posts that provide an overview of the Psalms. This series of posts is an outgrowth of a class that I teach entitled “Understanding the Psalms.” My specific plan with this series of posts is to sample a number of genres and key psalms associated with each genre.A genre is a literary category. In the case of Psalms, genre functions to identify common and disparate features among the various psalms and to categorize them accordingly. That is, based upon items such as common mood, literary features and content, individual psalms are placed in groups with similar psalms. With this study, I will examine six such genres used in the Psalms: (1) lament, (2) praise, (3) thanksgiving, (4) kingship & covenant renewal, (5) trust, and (6) wisdom. Since most of these six genres are subdivided into subcategories, I will also survey these. And, for the sake of familiarity, this series will follow the canonical order of the Psalms found in the Protestant Canon. With my treatment of each psalm, I will explain the psalm’s generic classification, structure and message.With the next post, we will look at Psalm 1, the first wisdom psalm in the Psalter.