The Psalms: Israel’s Worship Book

THEME: Worship in the Old Testament, 13th in the series 

Volume 7, No. 10 (October 2012)

1. Their Unique Contribution

It is reported that Athanasius, an outstanding Christian leader of the fourth century, declared that the Psalms have a unique place in the Bible because most of Scripture speaks to us, while the Psalms speak for us  (Bernhard W. Anderson, Out of the Depths: The Psalms Speak for Us Today, x).

Psalms are the language we use when we need a voice other than our own.  (Cornelius Plantinga Jr. and Sue A. Rozeboom, Discerning the Spirits: A Guide to Thinking about Christian Worship Today, 160)

2. Their Authorship

David                 73 Psalms

Asaph                  2

Sons of Korah  11

Solomon             2

Heman                1

Ethan                  1

unknown           49

3. The Structure of the Psalter

Book 1:  Psalms 1–41

concluding Doxology: 41:13

Book 2:  Psalms 42–72

concluding Doxology: 72:18-19

Book 3:  Psalms 73–89

concluding Doxology: 89:52

Book 4:  Psalms 90–106

concluding Doxology: 106:48

Book 5:  Psalms 107–150

concluding Doxology for entire Psalter: Ps. 150 (Hallelu-jah! [Praise Yahweh!])

(Bernhard Anderson, Out of the Depths: The Psalms Speak for Us Today, 9)

4. Their Themes/Forms 

Salvation History Psalms

Laments (Community and Individual)

Songs of Thanksgiving

Hymns of Praise

Festival Songs and Liturgies

Songs of Trust and Meditation

Prayer of Confession (51)

Song of Restoration  (32)

(Anderson, Out of the Depths, 170–71)

(Anderson, Out of the Depths, 170–71)

5. Their Tone

 Joy and Delight in God

I want to stress what I think that we (or at least I) need more [than instruction about sacrifice]; the joy and delight in God which meet us in the Psalms. . . .  These poets knew far less reason than we for loving God. They did not know that He offered them eternal joy; still less that He would die to win it for them. Yet they express a longing for Him, for His mere presence, which comes only to the best Christians or to Christians in their best moments. They long to live all their days in the Temple so that they may constantly see ‘the fair beauty of the Lord’ (Psalm 27:4). Their longing to go up to Jerusalem and ‘appear before the presence of God’ is like a physical thirst (42:1-2). From Jerusalem His presence flashes out ‘in perfect beauty’ (50:2).  Lacking that encounter with Him, their are parched like a waterless countryside (63:1). They crave to be ‘satisfied with the pleasures’ of His house (65:4).  Only there can they be at ease, like a bird in the nest (84:3; 84:1-2).  One day of those ‘pleasures’  is better than a lifetime spent elsewhere 84:10, 11, 12).

 I have rather—though the expression may seem harsh to some—call this the  ‘appetite for God’ than the ‘love of God. . . .’  It has all the cheerful spontaneity of a natural, even a physical, desire.

(C. S. Lewis, Reflections on the Psalms, 50–51)

Praise to God

We know that one of David’s greatest desires had been to build a structure more worthy than a mere tent to house the Ark of the Presence, but that God tells him, ‘No,’ by virtue of all the blood that it has taken to establish his kingdom. We know that God allows him instead to create the climate and provide the resources so his son Solomon, whose very name means “Peaceful,” can build the house.

What the discerning reader comes to see is that God’s ‘No”’ is a qualified ‘No.’ David becomes, so to speak, the Temple’s acoustical engineer. He designs its ‘aural architecture’: he writes his songs, plays them for the Lord, offers them in service of God’s people, and shapes the corporate singing of God’s praise. The Psalms themselves are as much a part of the building of God’s house as anything else is. David understood that what was to fill God’s house was not the smoke from the animal sacrifices, nor the smell of the incense, nor the ark of the covenant, all of which were mere pointers to things beyond themselves. The Temple was the meeting place of God and his people because it was to be filled with the realities of the self-offerings and the prayers and the praises of the people, on the one hand, and with the Shekinah glory of God’s very presence, on the other. In Psalm 22:3, David imagines God being enthroned upon praise, not upon individuals’ solitary praises but upon the praises of people gathered together in God’s house. Because they create ‘musical space’ for the meeting between God and his people, the Psalms as God’s people sing them together are as vital to the construction of the temple as are the pillars and beams. The Psalms David initiated are the aural architecture of the House of God. 

(Kidd, With One Voice: Finding Christ’s Song in Our Worship, 50-51)

Happy Reformation Day as well! (October 31) You might want to look at my reflections on this very special Christian holiday in Worship Notes 5.8.


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