Categories of Psalms
Understanding the Old Testament Lesson #015
April 16, 2000
"Father, we do thank You for this privilege to gather together to study Your Word and to take a look at the Old Testament and all the ways in which You prepared mankind, the human race, and especially the nation Israel for the coming of the Messiah that we might have a perfect salvation that would take care of sin. Father, we prayer the Psalms; we are impressed with Your character and how You are involved in every detail of life; You are the God to Whom we can turn for solutions in every problem and every adversary. Help us understand the things we study this morning that we may have a greater appreciation for You and for Your Word; in Jesus' Name, Amen."
We are studying the Old Testament and we have not come to our fifteenth lesson in orienting to the Old Testament. We started a study of the Psalms last week. The Psalms were written, one Psalm, Psalm 90, was written by Moses, so that was written about 1440 B.C.; and other Psalms, some of them are post-exilic, that means they were written after the Babylonian captivity, after the 70 years, which ended in 536 B.C. So they were written in that period between 536 B.C. to about 400 B.C. So they cover a wide range, but the majority of them, the one author that wrote the most was David. David wrote quite a few; of the ones David wrote he specifically states the historical context in fourteen of them. The rest do not have a context. Those fourteen are specifically related to events that occurred in David's life and events that are referenced in First Samuel. So if you read those Psalms it is important to go back and read the historical context in First Samuel to help you understand what the author is talking about and to relate more to how the principles relate to today. I think some of these Psalms touch us at the deepest level of our spiritual life because they are events and situations that are common to all of us.
I remember some years ago, and I hope to do it again, to teach through First and Second Samuel and all of those Psalms in their historical context. It is a phenomenal study. It is a great personal encouragement because like I said, so many of those Psalms are written especially between the time David is anointed and the time David actually becomes king after the death of Saul. That period of David's life is when he is in Israel, but he is viewed as an outlaw, as a vagabond. He is with his band of mighty men and at times they almost seemed like a band of pirates or muggers; and sometimes you look at Abner and you think that the generals are nothing but hit men the way that they function sometimes. I really think that we make too much of them. We always try to interpret David and his mighty men and the king of Israel, and we think in terms of European standards, but David goes through a lot of circumstances as sort of the outlaw band who is not welcomed. He is rejected by his world and in many ways that is set up typologically to represent the church in the world today. We are in the world, but we are not of the world. We are not in own; we are not recognized for who and what we are as the bride of Christ, body of Christ and so related to the future king; so we are as it were living in the world but in exile; we are outlaws in the world in that same sense. There are many themes in those Psalms that relate especially to the church.
Now as we got into the Psalms last time we introduced Hebrew poetry. We saw that in Hebrew poetry there are two elements in the Hebrew:
1. Rhythm, which of course relates only if you understand Hebrew and understand all the accent marks and the rhythm and the meter of the original language.
2. The second element is can be very clear to readers in the English Bible and that is parallelism.
a. We saw that the first type of parallelism is synonymous parallelism. The first line states the point; then the second line repeats and reiterates the first line in almost exactly the same way using synonyms in order to fill-out the picture for us. It is very poetic with use of a lot of images and similes; and so interpreting poetry is much different from interpreting one of Paul's epistles. You have different rules for different types of literature. Words mean certain things in certain context; so it is important to understand these things. For example, if you are reading the newspaper and you see the world "ball" and you are reading the sports page, you know that that word has a certain denotation, a soccer ball, a football, a baseball, something like that. But if you are reading in the society pages and you read the word "ball," because it is in a different context it has a totally different meaning. So it is important to understand context and literary type when you get into certain things in the Scriptures; otherwise, you will completely miss the point. We have synonymous parallelism.
b. The second is emblematic parallelism, which is sometimes a little difficult to understand. It is where a figure or metaphor, an emblem, is used in the first line and the second line then explains or applies that metaphor. For example, Psalm 23:1 we see "The LORD is my shepherd." That is an image, an emblem; it is representing the LORD as a shepherd. The second line applies it to our experience, "I shall not want." Another example of emblematic parallelism is found in Psalm 103:13, "Just as a father has compassion on his children." That is the metaphor, the comparison. Whenever you see "like" or "as" it is very important in the Psalms and poetry to understand the difference between simile and metaphor. Simile is when you have a stated comparison; that means that it specifically uses the word "like" or "as"; "Just as a father has compassion on his children." That is the stated comparison. A metaphor is just an implied comparison. For example, you might say, "The LORD wraps His wings around us." He does not have literal wings. It is an implied comparison. "Just as a father has compassion on his children;" that is the image. The father is the image and the application is that "the LORD has compassion on those who fear Him." That is the significance of emblematic parallelism.
c. The third type that we looked at was synthetic parallelism. The first line states the point and then the second line picks up the theme, one word or an idea and develops or expands it further.
d. The fourth kind that we looked at was antithetical parallelism, which is common in many of the Proverbs, especially after Proverbs 10. The first line is contrasted by the second line.
All of this is important because it helps you read the Psalms, which are very important for us; in fact, I encourage people to read through the Psalms, read through Proverbs on a continual basis. It is very important; it is a lot of crucial things. We might get to wisdom literature in Proverbs this morning; I kind of doubt it, but we might get that far. It is designed to teach wisdom, the highest piece of literature in the Old Testament for teaching doctrine. It is designed to prepare us to live life with skill; hopefully, we will someday get to a study of the Proverbs. So we have these forms in the Proverbs to understand so that we can read with intelligence. Then we have to understand that the Psalms are also written in a certain form, certain arrangement depending on their purpose and their function. This also helps us to extrapolate a certain amount of understanding and application from the Psalms.
We see this indicated in 1 Chronicles 16:4. You can turn there in your Bibles. It is really good to underline these verses because you can go back and look at them again; put the cross references in the margin. Sometimes people get the idea that they shouldn't write in their Bibles. But that is your sword, your weapon; you should write in your Bible. You should cover those pages with notes so that when you get a chance and you are reading it sometime or when you are talking to somebody and they ask you a question, you will have it available to answer, to have the information at hand. 1 Chronicles 16:1; now when we started a study of Psalms we had covered the history of Israel up to the United Kingdom and David is bringing the ark into the land. David brought the ark into Jerusalem and set it up in Jerusalem to show his concern for God. Then at that time, God in return for what David had done makes a covenant, a royal grant covenant with David. The context was what David did in bringing the ark into Israel.
Historically this is when David really begins to formalize congregational worship in Israel. There are examples of Palms before this, Moses' Psalm, Miriam's Psalm, there are a few other Psalms, Psalm of Deborah in the Judges, but this is where it becomes institutionalized as a form of worship. Singing is not mandated; it is a part of worship anywhere in the Old Testament; David developed that. God gives us an x-y-z basis and we are to utilize everything God gives us and develop from there. We don't just stick with the basis. So the Psalms are the Old Testament hymnbook for the nation Israel in praising God. David is the one who developed all of this.
You see this indicated right here in this passage in 1 Chronicles 16:1-4, "And they brought in the ark of God and placed it inside the tent, which David had pitched for it. And they offered burnt offerings and peace offerings before God." This is the burnt offering and peace offerings with the standard procedure according to Levitical law. "When David had finished offering the burnt offering and peace offering he blessed the people in the Name of the LORD. And he distributed to everyone of Israel both man and woman; to everyone a loaf of bread and a portion of meat and a raisin cake." This is to symbolize the bounty and grace of God. "And he appointed some of the Levites as ministers." Notice how he is developing worship at this point. "And he appointed some of the Levites as ministers for the ark of the LORD, even to celebrate and to thank and praise the LORD God of Israel."
You have three key nouns there:
1. To celebrate,
2. To thank,
3. And to praise
That really outlines for us three major types of Psalms. There are some minor categories that are different, but these are the three. I don't agree with all the translations here. So we will have to take a few moments to look at what this means in the Hebrew.
1. The word for "celebrate" in the Hebrew is ū·lə·haz·kîr. The lə in English, it is a lamedh of purpose in the Hebrew; it is what is translated "to" in English, "to celebrate." The main verb here is hazkir, which is a Hiphil infinitive of zakhar, which means "to remember" and the sense is to remind God of something. It is not to celebrate; it means to remind God of something; to bring something to His memory. Now that of course is an anthropopathism. God is omniscient; God knows all the knowable simultaneously, which means there never was a time when God didn't know everything there is to know. God doesn't forget things. But from our experience, from our perspective, sometimes we thing God has forgotten us. We are in a situation of adversity; we are in a testing situation; we are going through misery and we have been praying for day in and day out for some sort of relief from heaven and for God to do something; nothing happens and we think God has forgotten us. So from our perspective in the midst of adversity we want to remind God of our affliction so that God will hurry up and do something.
Now this comes across in the modern terminology that relates to this is the Lament Psalm; that is the category. It is a Lament Psalm; the Psalmist brings his lament to God. That is the technical phrase that is used. Now two Psalms, Psalm 38 and Psalm 70 both have this word ū·lə·haz·kîr in their heading in the Hebrew indicating their type. But there are many more, in fact, the majority of the Psalms, at least in the first hundred Psalms. The majority of them are Lament Psalms of one type of another. That is important for us because it is a prayer in the midst of adversity. Now I am not going to ask for a show of hands; I ought to ask for a show of hands, but how many people have never prayed in times of adversity. Nobody raised their hand. We all do that.
Now how do you learn to pray in times of adversity? You go to the Psalms. That is our model; and if you look at the Psalms what has happened is that the Psalmist has sat down and he has analyzed the situation in light of doctrine and he is crafting a prayer based upon the knowledge of doctrine; he is not just off the cuff, "LORD deliver me!" kind of foxhole prayer. These are well thought out logically developed arguments in order to impress God with the gravity of the situation to bring together doctrine that is applicable to the situation related to God's character and God's promises. Then to call upon God on the basis of Who He is and what He has done or promised in the past to act on our behalf. It will change the whole nature of your prayer life if you read the Psalms as prayers and understand them in light of our common circumstances.
2. The second category of Psalms is a thanksgiving Psalm. The word translated "thank" in 1 Chronicles 16:4 is ū·lə·hō·w·ḏō·wṯ. Once again you have the lamedh of purpose there. It is a Hiphil infinitive construct of yadah, which means "to know" in the Qal stem. Hebrew is very different from English if you did not know; it reads from right to left; it reads backwards. I took first year Hebrew in summer school, which is intense, and about the end of the first week I was driving up the intersection and I could not figure out why the STOP sign said POTS; a whole new way of looking at life backwards. The Qal stem has various stems and each stem has different meanings. In the Qal stem, the basic, which is the root stem, means to throw or to pass, but in the Hiphil stem it means to give thanks, yadah means to proclaim, to confess publicly, or to announce publicly what God has done.
So these thanksgiving Psalms were written out to be sung in public or to be read in public as a public proclamation of how God answered the prayer in the Lament Psalm. It is just the opposite. The Lament Psalm goes to God; LORD, I am in this circumstance; this is what is happening; this is what I call upon You to do; I trust You to do it. And then the Thanksgiving Psalm is the response. God not has answered that petition and now you publicly acknowledge how He answered that prayer. It was done often in assemblies or on feast days and it was very specific. This is exactly how God answered prayer, not just general, well God answers prayer… I prayed for this… It is a very specific statement of how God intervened in circumstances of life in order to answer that prayer.
Now there are some churches that do this a lot and this is a common practice. I think it is beneficial at times. I don't like to do it for one reason. I find that most people so superficial in their prayer life that they sit around with inanities and bore everybody to death; and secondly, I find that there is usually about half a dozen people in any congregation who don't have enough social skills and they dominate with the stuff that bores people and God answered my prayer and my car didn't break down on the way home… kind of thing. It reduces Christianity to such a superficial level and that is a reflection of our superficial society. So I usually would rather focus on doctrine than bore everybody with things like that. But every now and then at Thanksgiving or other times, those kinds of things are helpful and beneficial in a congregation. So we are encouraged by how God is acting in the lives of people. If we were to do that I would expect people to think seriously and profoundly about what they were going to say ahead of time. The trouble is that that usually does not happen.
3. Now the third category is Praise Psalms, ū·lə·hal·lêl, and once again you have the lamedh of purpose "to praise God;" hallel means really "to brag about God." It is a more general term. A Praise Psalm is different from a Thanksgiving Psalm. A Thanksgiving Psalm focuses on specifics; a Praise Psalm is very general. You focus on Who God is; what He has done; you extol God for His attributes, for generally what He has done in your life and what He has done in the nation. So it is not as specific as a Thanksgiving Psalm.
These three categories relate to the three major categories of Psalms:
1. Lament Psalm
2 Thanksgiving Psalm
3. Praise Psalm
So let's look at these individually and see what characterizes them and how we can read the Psalm with a little more intelligence.
A Lament Psalm usually has five sections. Now sometimes it has four and sometimes they are in a different order than this. Sometimes it is buried; one of these sections may be very brief. The introductory cry to God may be nothing more than "O God." The first two words in the first line of the Psalm. But usually the first part is an introductory cry to God. Secondly, there is a Lament Section. Sometimes the Lament Section may be broken into two parts. You may have a introductory summation of the Lament in the second or third verse; then it is expanded later on in the Psalm. Sometimes they may all be in one section.
Then there is a Petition; two or three verses where the Psalmist outlines what his request is; how he is calling upon God to act in his behalf. Then there is a Confidence or Trust Section. Usually what happens is you read through the Psalm. You see the Psalmist focus shift; this is so important. This is what happens in our own experience so often. We focus on the adversity; we focus on the pain; we focus on the misery we're going through; and then we sit down to pray and we call upon God to do something and we begin to focus on Him and our focus, our mental attitude focus shifts from being self-absorbed with our problems and adversity to focusing on the Great God Who created Heaven and Earth, Who is Greater than all problems and all circumstances. We know that we can come to Him with confidence and trust because He will solve all the problems. So there is a confidence or trust section.
Then there is a conclusion where the Psalmist has a vow of praise. He will go public with his praise. God if you answer this then I will praise you in the temple; I will offer sacrifices; I will make this vow and fulfill it. It is not a bargain with God; it is merely a statement that expresses how important this is to the Psalmist. He is not saying "LORD, if you do this then I will do that." God can live for eternity without our praises, but what he is saying is that this is so important to me that this is what I will do if you answer my prayer.
Now there are two types of Lament Psalms. There are:
1. Communal Laments
2. Individual Laments
Communal Laments would be found in Psalm 44; Psalm 74: Psalm 79; Psalm 80; Psalm 83. There is many others. A Communal Lament is where the nation that is bring its Lament to God.
An Individual Lament would be found in Psalm 3; Psalm 4; Psalm 5; Psalm 6; Psalm 7; Psalm 9; Psalm 10; many of the early Psalms, almost every one of them is an Individual Lament. Psalm 56 is one of my favorite Individual Lament Psalms. Turn in your Bibles with me and let's just read through Psalm 56 and pick up some of these themes and see how this relates to our own life. Psalm 56; this Psalm is one of those that has a specific historical situation. You read in your Bibles that there is a note at the beginning of the Psalm "For the Choir Director." These are musical notations in the Hebrew Bible; this is verse one. This is not something that the editor to your Bible has put in for your elucidation or information. This is the inspired Word of God just as much as anything else.
"To the Choir Director according to Jonath elem rehokim," which was probably the tune which they used, the name of the tune this was to be sung to. A Mikhtam, Mikhtam is a form of a song; A Mikhtam of David when the Philistines seized him in Gath. So the Philistines are the enemy of Israel and this is just prior to Saul's defeat and suicide, but David is seized by the Philistines. He's really left the land and he tried to compromise with the Philistines. They are getting ready to invade the land and they think David is going to betray them. So David is in dire straits; he may lose his life. It is a serious situation of adversity. We may find ourselves in similar type situations. It does not have to be identical, but we are faced with hostility with people who do not understand us; people who do have our worst interest at heart and want to destroy us in one way or another whether verbally or some other means; maybe someone at work in the workplace; and that is how we can relate these themes to our own life.
We see at the beginning the introductory cry to God in the first verse. Psalm 56:1-2, "Be gracious, O God." That is it. That is all that you have in terms of that introductory cry. Once we see that we know immediately that we must be dealing with a Lament Psalm. "Be gracious, O God." This is his cry; the request to be gracious is really a foreshadowing of his petition; for God to treat him on the basis of grace. "Be gracious, O God, for man has trampled upon me; fighting all day long he oppresses me. My foes have trampled upon me all day long, for they are many who fight proudly against me." We see there his expression of his lament in those first two verses. Then we see a shift begin to take place in Psalm 56:3; it is still a part of the lament. He says, "When I am afraid, I will put my trust in Thee." Here we have a minor confidence expression in Psalm 56:3-4. You have lament in the first two verses; confidence in verse three and four. "When I am afraid, I will put my trust in Thee. In God, whose word I praise, In God I have put my trust; I shall not be afraid. What can mere man do to me?" He is getting Divine viewpoint all of a sudden. He is beginning to focus and compare his problem with God's omnipotence; and his problems all of a sudden begin to vanish.
Then he goes back to his lament, Psalm 56:5, "All day long they distort my words; all their thoughts are against me for evil." Well see what is happening is that David has because of Saul's oppression finally just left the land and is trying to live with the Philistines. I think he is out of fellowship at this particular time or part of the time. "All day long they distort my words." They are accusing him of treachery. If they fight with Israel that David will turn against them and they misunderstand David's motives and his thinking. So they are (David) the victim of the public lie. Psalm 56:5-6, "All day long they distort my words; they attack; they lurk, they watch my steps, as they have waited to take my life. Because of wickedness, cast them forth." This is the petition.
Now Psalm 56:7, "Because of wickedness, cast them forth." He calls on God to judge them and bring discipline upon them. "In anger put down the peoples, O God!" Notice that it is synthetic parallelism. You have the main thought "Because of wickedness, cast them forth." He expands that idea in the second half, "In anger, put down the people, O God!" Psalm 56:8 "Thou have taken account of my wanderings; put my tears in Thy bottle; are they not in Your book?" In the ancient Near Eastern culture they would have tear bottles. They are small little bottles and at a funeral when people would mourn they would capture their tears in these little bottles as a memorial to the grief of the person who was lost. It showed tremendous attention and concern for the individual who had died. So hear David is recognizing the compassion of God; that God is One who would care about every tear that falls from our eyes. "Put my tears in Thy bottle; are they not in Your book?" God has a complete record of all of our sufferings and nothing goes by that He does not pay attention to.
Psalm 56:9-10, "Then my enemies will turn back in the day when I call; this I know, that God is for me." Notice his statement of confidence and trust at this point. He is shifting back to a confident section. "This I know, that God is for me." So he goes for a doctrinal principle. "In God, whose word I praise, in the LORD, whose word I praise." Notice this is the repetition of what we had back in Psalm 56:4, "In God, whose Word I praise, in God I have put my trust." So they mirror one another. He introduces the confidence earlier and then he develops it more here. Psalm 56:11, "In God I put my trust, I shall not be afraid. What can man do to me?"
And then we see the expression of vows of praise in Psalm 56:12-13, "Thy vows are binding upon me, O God; I will render thank offerings to Thee." I will go into the temple and I will publicly thank you and praise you for what you have done. "For Thou have delivered my soul from death, indeed my feet from stumbling;" he is so certain of the outcome that he states it as if it is a present reality when it hasn't taken place yet. "For Thou has delivered my soul from death, indeed my feet from stumbling, so that I may walk before God in the light of the living." See, there is a subtle argument in that last phrase. The subtle argument is, "LORD, if you don't deliver me I won't be able to praise You." The reason you have created me is to glorify You in life and in the angelic conflict and if you let me die then I am not going to be able to do that and if this suffering continues then I will not be able to fulfill the purposes and plans that You have for my life. Se he is arguing doctrinally, even in that conclusion he is presenting his case before the Supreme Court of Heaven, to act on his behalf. So these are not just randomly thrown out little statements by somebody who is going through some sort of trouble.
Now for a Communal Lament, one that relates to the nation as a whole; let's look at Psalm 44; turn back a couple of pages. This takes place when the armies of Israel, we don't know exactly when this happened. There is no specific historical notation here. The first verse in the Hebrew reads, "For the choir director. A Maskil of the sons of Korah." Now we have no idea when this took place at all. It is unknown; there is nothing indefinite there. It is just a time when the armies of Israel have gone forth to do holy war. Not we study the concept of the ban and the holy war as God decreed it when Israel went into the land under Joshua. They were to wipe-out everybody that God went forth as LORD of the Armies, Yahweh Sabaoth, The LORD of Hosts, literally The LORD of the Armies. He is the General and He would give them victory as long as they did battle according to the principles in Deuteronomy, which means that they obeyed God fully.
Now this is the backdrop for understanding this. They have gone forth to do holy war in accordance with Deuteronomy 24 and they have suffered an incredible defeat. They have been wiped-out. They have had tremendous loss of life and they return to Jerusalem and go to the temple in order to bring their petition and lament before God. As we look at this Psalm we will see some interesting things about the Psalm. We will see that as a Lament Psalm it has a confidence section; a lament section; a petition; a praise, which is an extension of the confidence, but there is no introductory petition like we had in Psalm 56.
Now this Psalm (Psalm 44) is also very well crafted. It tells us once again that when people prayed before God they treated it as something serious. They would sit down and think about what they were going to say, write it out, and arrange it in a particular manner. In the Hebrew the way this is built is like a ziggurat. A ziggurat was a man-made mountain that was a step pyramid that would take one up to God. So the focus as the eye looks at a pyramid the eye is draw to the pinnacle; so everything in this Psalm draws to the last section. It is laid out like this:
The confidence section has the first eight verses, Psalm 44:1-8, expresses the confidence in God. In the Hebrew there are ten lines of poetry and then you move from Confidence in Psalm 44:8, which looks back in time to a Lament Section in Psalm 44:9-16. Psalm 44:9-16 you have eight lines of poetry. The confidence section is ten lines of poetry; the lament section is eight lines of poetry; then there is sort of a protest section, "LORD, why did you do this?" In Psalm 44:17-22 and that has six lines. Then at the top of the petition, at the top of the Psalm you have the petition in Psalm 44:23-26, which has four lines of Hebrew poetry. So everything is designed to focus our attention on that final Petition in the last four verses. So let's read through it and see how this is arranged.
It starts off in the first section with eight lines, really it is divided into two four line sections. It looks back on how God has worked in the history of Israel. Apparently this took place sometime in Israel's history before they were taken out under Divine discipline in 586 B.C. We don't know when, but they are looking back at that time when God gave the army victory under Joshua when they initially went into the land; that is the background. Psalm 44:1, "We have heard with our ears, O God, our fathers have told us,
what work thou didst in their days, in the times of old." See, if you think about this, this is probably written three or four hundred years after Joshua took the army into the land. They are relying on the same written doctrinal information we are relying on in Joshua. They are looking at the same Bible we are looking at; they are looking at Joshua and they are saying, we have this written record of doctrine here that teaches us that God gives us victory in the land. They are no different than us. Three or four hundred years removed versus 2,000 or 3,000 years is not much difference. They are still looking back at that same written record.
"We have heard;" we have the Scriptures that teach us this. Psalm 44:1-4, "Our fathers have told us what work thou didst in their days, in the times of old. How thou didst drive out the heathen with thy hand, and plantedst them; how thou didst afflict the people, and cast them out." How thou didst afflict the people, and spread them abroad. They got not the land and possession by their own sword; I think I used the King James Version on this; I just realized it. "For they got not the land in possession by their own sword,
neither did their own arm save them: but thy right hand, and thine arm, and the light of thy countenance, because thou hadst a favour unto them." Notice how there is a rehearsal and confidence of "just as You delivered them in times of old" you should be delivering us in present time. You are still the same God of omnipotence. "Thou art my King, O God: command deliverances for Jacob." It is a strong statement of confidence.
Psalm 44: 5-8, "Through thee will we push down our enemies:" It shifts from past to present. You did this in the past so You should be doing this in the present; "through Thy name will we tread them under that rise up against us. For I will not trust in my bow, neither shall my sword save me." That doesn't mean that they won't engage in battle. It means that their reliance is not upon the human viewpoint military accouterments and training. Ultimately their confidence is in God not in their own tactics or skill with weapons. "But thou hast saved us from our enemies, and hast put them to shame that hated us. In God we boast all the day long, and praise thy name for ever." So there is this shift in confidence that you find often in the Psalms where the Psalmist focuses so intensely on the character of God that even though God has not yet delivered, he expresses the confidence as if God has already delivered and given victory.
Then in the next section we break from Psalm 44:8 to Psalm 44:9; it expresses the lament of the Psalmist. But thou hast rejected us, and brought us to dishonor; and does not go out with our armies. This is the problem, LORD, why were we defeated? We cannot understand this. How many times in our lives do we feel like we have done everything right. They are not like the army at Ai, where Achan, who we studied when we went through Joshua. Achan kept back from the LORD instead of destroying everything as Joshua had said; he had kept some booty and God had said to destroy everything. So Achan kept a few things back and when they initially did battle at Ai they were defeated. They had to go through the entire camp of Israel until they found who was not obeying God; because that one person had not obeyed God they had suffered a massive military defeat.
Well, what they are saying in Psalm 44 is LORD, we have done everything right, we don't have someone like Achan in our midst. We have been trusting You exclusively and yet we went down with this incredible defeat. We don't understand it. Now how many times in our experience do we feel as if not only is God not home, but He hasn't been there in a long time. We just go through that suffering for week after week after year after year after year and continue to petition God, 'why aren't you there?' So these kinds of thoughts are common to believers throughout all time and the Palmist recognizes this and we can relate to this. LORD you have rejected us and brought us to dishonor. We do not understand it. We are Your people and You don't go out with our army. Psalm 44:10-12, "Thou hast caused us to turn back from the adversary; and those who hate us have taken spoil for themselves. Thou hast given us like sheep to be eaten and hast scattered us among the nations. Thou dost sell thy people cheaply, and hast not profited by their sell."
What benefit has this been? The army has been humiliated and because the Gentiles know that You are our God; they have heard all the stories about our deliverance from Egypt and they have heard about the remarkable things at Jericho and at Ai and all these things in the past and now we are defeated. What is the subtext here? LORD when we are dishonored like this You are dishonored like this. There is a subtext of arguing doctrinally. God, as we prosper, You are honored; as You prosper us You are honored. So it is very God-centered. They are not looking at this simply from the self-absorption of their own defeat. They are convinced that they been applying doctrine. I am convinced that they are not out of line at all, but this is just relating that often times God and His plans and purposes for our lives works quite differently from what we expect and sometimes we are confused and just don't know what the answer will be until we get to heaven.
Psalm 44:13-16, "Thou dost make us a reproach to our neighbors, a scoffing and a derision to those around us. Thou dost make us a byword among the nations." They talk about us all the time. They are running us down. Everybody is on front page of every newspaper around the world, the New York Times, the London Times, all of them are talking about how God does not really care about Israel anymore, so maybe God doesn't exist. Thou dost make us a byword among the nations, a laughing stock. See the synonymous parallelism? Thou dost make us a byword among the nations, a laughing stock among the people. All day long my dishonor is before me. They are ashamed; they are embarrassed; they are in grief for the loss of their comrades. My humiliation has overwhelmed me; again synonymous parallelism. Because of the voice of Him who reproaches and reviles; because of the presence of the enemy and the avenger. So they are continually being attacked.
Now the next six lines in the Hebrew, Psalms 44:17-22 in the English, develop the protest; LORD, how could you do this to us? We have done our part; why didn't You fulfill Your part; we do not understand. All this has come upon us, but we have not forgotten You. We have not dealt falsely with Thy covenant. Our heart has not turned back and our steps have not deviated from Thy way; yet, Thou hast crushed us in a place of jackals and covered us with the shadow of death. If we had forgotten the Name of our God or extended our hands to a strange god, like Ai where there was idolatry in the camp, would not God find this out? For He knows the secrets of the heart. But for Thy sake we are killed all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.
Now Paul pulls this right out of your psalm; it is a psalm to most of us, and uses it to describe the rejection that he encountered in the mission field. So we can see like in Romans 8:36 that the Holy Spirit uses this to apply to a current situation. Sometimes we feel as if God has just deserted us. The issue is the test of endurance. Are we going to continue to trust God in the midst of overwhelming adversity again and again and again even though it seems as if God far from us and that God has deserted us?
Then we come to Psalm 44:23-26, the last four lines of Hebrew poetry, which express the petition. "Arouse thyself, why dost Thou sleep, O LORD?" Notice the use of anthropropathisms here, God doesn't sleep; God is not far from us; but he uses this imagery in order to express what is going on in human terms. We feel as if God is sleeping or that God is not listening. "Awake, do not reject us forever. Why dost Thou hide Thy face, and forget our affliction and our oppression? For our soul has sunk down into the dust: our body cleaves to the earth." This is an expression of their humiliation and their depression, their frustration, their anxiety. They are being honest; they are not being emotional here; emotion is when you have these emotions. You let them control your thinking and run away with you. But they are being honest with their emotions.
Some people think that when I talk about emotion, that you shouldn't be emotional, is that when things are going bad and you feel depressed; you feel angry; you say, oh, I am a Christian, I shouldn't feel that way. That is called denial; that is called self-deception. You see they recognize that these emotions are being brought into their soul, but they are dealing with them Biblically. Sometimes we go through what I call an emotional test. You may feel depressed; you may feel discouraged; the issue is what are you going to do with those emotions? Are you going to let those emotions dominate you and go on some kind of pity party or you are self-absorbed and then you are just going to get into those emotions and let those emotions overwhelm you and just mire yourself in emotional wallowing or are you going to doctrinal reality here. I am going to focus on the LORD and I am going to recover. I am not saying that I don't feel this way, but God is greater and I will recover and that is what they are doing.
Psalm 44:25, "Our soul is sunk down into the dust; our body cleaves to the earth. Arise, be our help, redeem us for the sake of Thou lovingkindness." Notice that appeal there to God's character. Lovingkindness is a very pregnant word in the Hebrew. The meaning is full of nuance and meaning; it is chesed and it refers to the faithful loyal love of God based upon His covenant. It is almost impossible to translate. I think it relates to the integrity of God, His absolute righteousness, His perfect justice and His immeasurable love. All of these things are involved in that word chesed. They are appealing to the integrity of God now to intervene on their behalf and their circumstances because when they are defeated it is as if God is defeated. So they are appealing to His very essence as the root to their argument to His sovereignty and to His faithfulness.
One thing is sure for all of us; is when we go through this kind of testing that we can rely on the fact that Jesus Christ does control history. We may not understand all of the dynamics, how everything works together, but just as Jesus Christ controls history Jesus Christ in His sovereignty is in control of our lives. We know verses like 1 Corinthians 10:13 that there is no testing taken us as such is common to man, but God is faithful, Who will not test us beyond our ability, but with the temptation make a way to escape that we can endure. God controls history; he is in control of the tests in our life. He does not go to sleep or turn His back on us; that is part of the test whether we are willing to hang with Him even when He does not run at our beckoned call.
So those are Lament Psalms. We looked at an individual Lament Psalm, Psalm 56; a communal Lament in Psalm 44; and now let's look at a Thanksgiving Psalm. A thanksgiving psalm is also called Psalms of Declarative Praise. It comes from the Hebrew word yadah, which indicates a specificity. The Psalmist now has had his Lament heard and so he is going to acknowledge how God has answered his prayer. We see this in Psalm 21, Psalm 30, Psalm 32, Psalm 34, Psalm 40, and Psalm 66. The Psalmist acknowledges specifically how God has answered his prayers.
There are again five elements that characterize a Thanksgiving Psalm:
1. First there is a Proclamation, to praise God. The Psalm begins with a Proclamation to Praise God.
2. This may be followed by an Introductory Summary of what God has done on the part of the petitioning.
3. Then third there is the description of the deliverance; how God has delivered the individual.
4. There is a renewed Vow of Praise.
5. There is a Call or Instruction to Praise God.
Now all of these elements may not be present in every Psalm. They are generally in most Psalms. They may be in a different order, but these are the elements that we find in a Praise Psalm. So let's turn and look at Psalm 40. This is Psalm 40, which is a Declarative Praise or Thanksgiving Psalm. To the choir director, a Psalm of David. It begins in the first verses, the first four lines, looks back at the report of God's deliverance to the Palmist.
Psalm 40:1-3, "I waited patiently for the LORD; and He inclined to me; He heard my cry. He brought me up out of the pit of destruction, out of the miry clay, He set my feet upon a rock making my footsteps firm. He put a new song in my mouth." This is what he will develop in the course of the Psalm is this new song that He had put in his mouth. He puts a new song in my mouth a song of praise to our God; many will see and fear and will trust in the LORD. Then we come to the direct address to God. See what he says here in Psalm 44:3, He put a new song in my mouth; many will see and fear and will trust in the LORD. So there is a purpose to this in that it encourages other believers with how God has worked in our own lives.
In Psalm 40:4, "How blessed is the man that has made Yahweh his trust, and has not returned to the proud, nor to those who lapse in the falsehood." Here we see the typical response for many in adversity is to try to utilize some human viewpoint technique or skill or something that seems to work for everybody else; whatever the popular method is of the moment in order to solve life's problems. In contrast, the blessed man, the spiritually mature man, is the one who exclusively relies upon the LORD in contrast to the one who turns to the crowd. So here we hear we see an antithetical parallelism.
God is addressed in Psalm 40:5, "Many, O LORD my God, are Thy wonders which Thou hast done." It is a focus on God and His workings in history. Many, O LORD my God, are Thy wonders which Thou hast done, and Thy thoughts toward us; there is none to compare to Thee; I would declare and speak of them, they would be too numerous to count. Then we see the word of praise Psalm 44:6, "Sacrifice and meal offerings Thou hast not desired; my ears Thou hast opened." In other words, I really did not understand doctrine. I did not understand how to look at life from divine viewpoint, but You have taken me through this adversity and affliction and I have seen Your power; I have seen Your grace in the answer and now my ears have been unplugged and I am ready to listen to Your Word and to take in doctrine. I am ready to focus on an make divine things my priority and not live life on my agenda.
Psalm 40:6, "My ears Thou hast opened; burnt offering and sin offering Thou hast not required." The emphasis is on what is going on in the soul, not simply the overt ritual. Remember ritual without reality is meaningless. This is the same idea here of sacrifice of the life that we have in Romans 12:1 where Paul writes, "I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God." So when you get to that point in your spiritual life when you begin to understand that doctrine is a way of life; it is not just something you do once or twice a week. It is not just some intellectual exercise, but doctrine is a way of life that has the highest priority and nothing else matters. Everything else takes second place.
Psalm 40:7, "Behold I come; in the scroll of the book it is written of me, I delight to do Thy will, O God." Notice how this is picked up and applied by the Holy Spirit to the Lord Jesus Christ. That is part of what is found in Messianic Psalms that we will get to in a minute. "I delight to do Thy will, O my God; Thy law is within my heart." Then he expresses a new petition starting in Psalm 40:13, "Be pleased O LORD, to deliver me; make haste O LORD, to help me; let those be ashamed and humiliated together who seek my life to destroy it; let those be turned back and dishonored." So he has had one petition and he praises God for answering it and then skips to a new petition that is expressed in Psalm 40:13-17. Incidentally, the Holy Spirit seems to come along and pick off these five verses at the end and make that petition the opening petition of a Lament Psalm in Psalm 70:1-5.
We have Lament Psalms, Thanksgiving Psalms, and then the next category is the Descriptive Praise Psalm. This is more of a general praise of God focusing on His character. There are the three elements that you see in a Praise Psalm:
1. The call to praise
2. An expression of the cause for praise
3. And then a renewed call to praise.
Examples are in Psalms 33, 36, 105, 111, 113, and 135. Let's look at Psalm 117. The shortest chapter in the Bible; the shortest Psalm in the Bible. There is a Call to Praise, Psalm 117:1, "Praise the LORD, all nations; laud Him all peoples." You see the synonymous parallelism. The Call to Praise is a command. In the Hebrew it is the verb halal, which means "praise; to give praise to God." This is a halal psalm; so that the word is halal and when it is in the imperative mood and joined with its object, God or Yahweh, here. The command is hallelujah; it is a command to praise God; and then the synonymous parallelism, "laud Him all people." You have the cause to praise Him in Psalm 117:2, "For His lovingkindness is great toward us; and the truth of the LORD is everlasting." We should praise God because of His faithful love; this is chesed again. "For His faithful covenant love toward us is great." It is immeasurable; we can't phantom it. God is always faithful. He never deserts us. "And the truth" that is Bible doctrine, "the truth of the LORD is everlasting."
So this is the cause, why should we praise God, because of Who He is; and all of the nations are called to praise God because God is going to be faithful to the covenant to Israel. The nations, the goyim, the Gentiles are called to praise God because God is faithful to His covenant to the Abrahamic Covenant, to the Davidic Covenant. God is faithful to the covenants of Israel. God will bring salvation to all of the nations. So all of the nations are enjoined to come together and praise God and then there is a renewed call to praise at then end, "Praise the LORD;" the hallelujah. Now those are the three broad categories. There are other categories that sometimes people talk about, but those are the main ones: the Lament Psalm, the Thanksgiving Psalm, And the Praise Psalm. Then we come to a particular type of Psalm, which are Messianic Psalms.
The Messianic Psalms are the psalms that have the Lord Jesus Christ in the view. In some way there is something in these psalms that has its ultimate fulfillment in the Lord Jesus Christ. Perhaps in the experience of the Psalmist. He goes through some crisis, but he expresses it in hyperbolic language in exaggeration and metaphor that is not literally true of his own experience, but yet it becomes literally true in the experience of the Lord Jesus Christ. We will see an example of this. The first type of Messianic Psalm, a typical Messianic Psalm. This relates to the fact that it has a typology in it. Type from the Greek word TUPOS, meaning an example. There is something in this Messianic Psalm that would exemplify this particular event or principle in the life of Jesus Christ. There is a typical Messianic Psalm; there is some feature in the life of the Psalmist is intended to picture or portray something in the life of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Turn to Psalm 69 is a typical Messianic Psalm. Let's look at Psalm 69:5, "O God, it is Thou who dost know my folly," obviously not everything in the Psalm relates to the Lord Jesus Christ. The Lord Jesus Christ was not foolish; He did not sin. "Thou who dost know my faults and my wrongs have not hid me from Thee. May those who wait for Thee not be ashamed through me, O LORD, God of hosts; may those who seek Thee not be dishonored through me, O God of Israel. Because of Thee for Thy sake." Psalms 69:7-9 are the Messianic portions of the Psalm. "Because for Thy sake I have borne reproach." Think of God the Father and His plan, Jesus Christ entered into human history to go to the Cross and bear the reproach, the judgment for all of our sins. "Dishonor has covered my face." One of the most humiliating death possible in human history. "I have become estranged from my brothers and an alien to my mother's sons." This is seen in John 7:3-5 where Jesus' brothers and his family were alienated from him. Not just those metaphorically speaking of Israel, but His immediate family was estranged from Him.
David of course was the runt of the liter and his brothers did not think much of him, but that event in David's life was nothing compared to the greater event of the reproach and the estrangement from His brothers of the Lord. So this issue is picked up and used and applied to the Lord Jesus Christ in the New Testament. Then Psalm 69:9 is repeated also in John 2:17. "For zeal for Thy house has consumed me." We studied that in John when the Lord goes into the temple and cleanses it. "Zeal for Thy house has consumed me, and the reproaches of those who reproach They have fallen upon me." So here we see the full impact in our life when we trust the Lord and we are identified with the Lord; that we will be alienate; we will be reproached by those who are not. So we can expect to go through that kind of rejection and hostility just as Christ did. The Holy Spirit picks up the two verses here and applies them specifically to the Messiah where they are literally fulfilled.
The second type is a typically Prophetical Psalm; and in a typical Prophetic Psalm you find vocabulary that is literally fulfilled in Jesus Christ. Psalm 22 is perhaps the most clear of these typical Prophetic Psalms. There is something that is said there that is specifically fulfilled in Jesus Christ. David starts, Psalm 22:1, "My God, my God, why have Thou forsaken me? Far from my deliverance are the words of my groaning." The same words that are picked up and uttered by Jesus Christ from the Cross. I think that what we have in the New Testament where it says, "My God, my God, why have Thou forsaken me." We get the abbreviated version. I think He quotes probably the first three or four verses of this whole Psalm. Psalm 69:2-5, "O my God, I cry by day, but Thou do not answer; and by night I have no rest. But Thou are holy, O Thou who are enthroned upon the praises of Israel. In You our fathers trusted; they trusted and Thou didst deliver them. To Thee they cried out and were delivered; in Thee they trusted and were not disappointed."
We go on and we look at these other things that are said here in this particular Psalm and not all of them are particularly fulfilled in the life of David. I think he just uses exaggeration to emphasize them; for example in Psalm 69:12, "Many bulls have surrounded me." He is using metaphorical figurative language. "Strong bulls of Bashan have encircled me." I think he is using vocabulary that goes far beyond his own experience, but it finds literal fulfillment in the person of Jesus Christ.
The same thing we find down in Psalms 69:16-18, "For dogs have surrounded me." The Gentiles, we think of the Romans at the foot of the Cross. "A band of evildoers has encompassed me; they pierced my hands and my feet." I don't think David ever had his hands and feet pierced. "I can count all my bones." Jesus was emaciated on the Cross. I think that the energy just drained Him. "They look, they stare at me; they divide my garments among them, and for my clothing they cast lots." I don't think this literally happened in David's life; I find no evidence of this anywhere. He is using exaggeration and figurative language to talk about the misery he has gone through and yet, it finds literal fulfillment in Jesus Christ.
Then, finally we have just a purely Prophetic Psalm, which is all prophesy, and this would be Psalm 110:1, "The LORD, Yahweh, says to my Lord; 'Sit at my right hand until I make Your enemies a footstool for Your feet.' " Now David is speaking here and he says, "The LORD" that is Yahweh, "says to my Lord." Well, David is the king of Israel, he is his LORD, He is his Adonia. "The LORD says to my Lord, 'Sit at My right hand,' " this is a reference to the ascension of Jesus Christ and His current session when He is seated at the right hand of the Father after the crucifixion and resurrection. Jesus Christ ascended and now sits at the right hand of God the Father. Psalm 110:2, "The LORD will stretch forth Your strong scepter from Zion, saying, 'Rule in the midst of Your enemies.' " This is purely prophetic. It is not related to something specific in the life of David, but it is all related to the coming Messiah.
So the Psalms are wonderful things. There is just so much we could study in the Psalms and I hope that this is something that you can go back and utilize in your own notes and relate and read the Psalms with much more intelligence and understand how they relate to our own lives and using them as a format for prayer. Ultimately, I think in the Psalms everything goes to the Lord Jesus Christ in some way or another everything focuses our attention ultimately at the Cross where Jesus Christ paid the penalty for our sins. Let's close in prayer; with our heads bowed and our eyes closed.
"Father, we do thank You for Your grace and for the encouragement we have from reading the Psalms and the meditations upon Your character, Who You are and what You have done in human history; and just as the writers of the Psalms looked back in history to Your written Word and to historical events that You had displayed in terms of delivering Israel and the time of Moses and the time of Joshua. So we can look back to those same events and we are encouraged that the same God Who parted the Red Sea, Who brought the Israelites out of Egypt and brought them into the Promised Land is the same God Who is our God; Who is greater than any problem and any difficulty in our lives. Father, we pray that if there is anyone here this morning who is uncertain of their eternal destiny that they would realize that You have solved the greatest problem that they will ever face and that their sin. You sent Your Son Jesus Christ to die on the Cross for our sins and that by faith alone in Christ alone we can accept that free gift. And we can have eternal salvation. It is not by works of righteousness that we have done, but according to Your mercy You have saved us. Now Father, we pray that You will help us to remember the things that we studied today and be challenged by them. In Jesus' Name, Amen."