Saturday, July 8, 2017

Bible in a Year: Psalms 107-150

In my recent book here, I think about
Psalm 110 and other Old Testament
scriptures important in the
New Testament. 
This calendar year, I’m reading through the Bible and taking informal notes on the readings. Since we so often read verses and passages of the Bible without appreciating context, I’m especially focusing on the overall narrative and connections among passages.

As I began to reread the Psalms a few weeks ago, I hadn’t realized or had forgotten that the Psalms progress in a loose and general chronology from the life of David, to Solomon (Ps. 72), and into the crisis era of the divided kingdom, the destruction of Jerusalem and, by the end, the corporate worship-life of the post exilic community. Most of us, myself included, pick out individual psalms and don’t necessary see the patterns within the whole psalter.

This week I’m studying the final group of psalms: 107-150. Book IV, 90-106, had generally referred to the end of the monarchy, the judgment of God, but also God’s mercy and eternal covenant with Israel. 104-106 had surveyed God’s greatness in creation, the history of Israel, and God’s mercy when the people’s sinned. Book V begins with praise for the ways God delivers his people: from the desert, from prison, from sickness, from the sea, and also God’s blessings of the earth.

The next three are psalms of David. 108 is a song of confidence and thanksgiving. 109 is a “psalm of anathema” (as my study Bible labels it), condemning the psalmist’s accusers and haters.

110… well, it’s one of the most important psalms for New Testament theology. Verse 1 is quoted or alluded to nearly two dozen times by New Testament authors, and 110:4 is particularly important for the author of the Book of Hebrews. The image of the crucified and risen Jesus, who now sits at the right hand of God, is one of the scriptural foundations of New Testament theology.

Psalms 111-119 is a group of unattributed psalms of praise, lovely to read together. 111-118 are relatively short and make a nice series. When we get to 119, we arrive at a famous epic among the psalms: 176 verses, arranged in twenty-two sections according to letters of the Hebrew alphabet. Good ol’ Wikipedia has a good summary of the many ways that Psalm 119 is used in Jewish and Christian worship, and in musical settings. Here also is a general-knowledge site that gives several aspects of 119. As a Jewish song gathered into the psalter in the Second Temple period, it is a beautiful expression of the Jewish love for Torah.

Psalms 120-134 are a group of psalms called the Song of Ascents. Some older translations call them Psalms of Degrees. 122, 124, 131 and 133 are attributed to David, and 127 is the other Solomon psalm. These psalms were possibly sung by pilgrims on their way to Jerusalem (which is at a high elevation), or other perhaps for climbing the temple steps.

Tribes of Israelites went up to Jerusalem to worship (Deut. 16:16, Psalm 24:3, 122:4, Neh. 3:15, 1 Kings 12:28, etc.). My colleague Clint McCann writes, “While certainty is not possible, it is likely that this collection was originally used by pilgrims on their way to Jerusalem or as part of a festal celebration in Jerusalem.” He also writes that these psalms are all short enough to be memorized and several contain references to everyday life, implying that these psalms reflect the experiences of everyday people traveling or arriving at Jerusalem (J. Clinton McCann, “The Book of Psalms,” The New Interpreter’s Bible, Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1995, p. 1176.).

It’s worth noting that the word “Aliyah,” or “ascent”, refers to the immigration of Jews to Israel. "Making Aliyah” (moving to Israel) is a common expression among Jews.

Among these psalms, 121 is my favorite psalm of all—sorry, Psalm 23. 😀 I have a whole website devoted to 121: From 121 comes the phrase, "maker of heaven and earth" which we recite in some of the Creeds.

Psalm 122 is well known for its phrase, “Pray for the peace of Jerusalem!” (verse 6). 126 was a favorite psalm in my childhood because of its image of “bringing in the sheaves.” I didn’t know what a “sheaf” was—a bundle of grain stalks that can be carried—and I thought of the song in evangelistic terms rather than its original context, the gratitude of exiles returning to the Land, who NOW WILL NOT STARVE TO DEATH because they’ve harvested grain.

Psalm 127 is also well known for its verses—

Unless the Lord builds the house,
   those who build it labour in vain.
Unless the Lord guards the city,
   the guard keeps watch in vain.
It is in vain that you rise up early
   and go late to rest,
eating the bread of anxious toil;
   for he gives sleep to his beloved.

as is Psalm 130, the penitential, De profundis song—

Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord.
   Lord, hear my voice!
Let your ears be attentive
   to the voice of my supplications!

If you, O Lord, should mark iniquities,
   Lord, who could stand?
But there is forgiveness with you,
   so that you may be revered.

I wait for the Lord, my soul waits,
   and in his word I hope;
my soul waits for the Lord
   more than those who watch for the morning,
   more than those who watch for the morning.

O Israel, hope in the Lord!
   For with the Lord there is steadfast love,
   and with him is great power to redeem.
It is he who will redeem Israel
   from all its iniquities.

and Psalm 133:

How very good and pleasant it is
   when kindred live together in unity!

Continuing among the remaining psalms:  Psalm 136 is a lovely praise of God’s mercy, with the recurring line, "for his steadfast love [hesed] endures for ever. " “Steadfast love,” which can also be translated “lovingkindness” is one of the Bible’s most wonderful words.

Psalm 137 is a sorrowful hymn of the exiles in Babylon. “How shall sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land?” (vs. 4). One wonders if the tragic verse 9 is a response to what the Babylonians did to Israelite children, especially when one thinks of the book of Lamentations' sorrowful depiction of the plight of the exiles.

Psalm 139 sings the praise of God’s omniscience. If the psalmist ever wanted to get away from God, or felt absent from God, such would not be possible because God is always with the psalmist, always a companion and helper, no matter what!

Psalms 138-145 is the psalter’s final grouping of David songs, in which the poet seeks God’s help and mercy in times of trouble, persecution, sickness, confinement, and challenges in war, all the while extolling the greatness and graciousness of God. These songs harken back to themes that we’ve seen throughout the psalter: for instance, 143:5-6 is a cry of desperation for God’s help as the psalmist recalls God’s mercies of the past.

Appropriately, Psalms 146-150 are all songs of praise and trust in God, even exuberant, loud praise, as expressed in 149-150. Creation, too, praises God (148), as we saw in 19 and 104. As Psalm 1 promised that the godly would be happy, these psalms sing that happiness!

Praise the Lord!
Praise God in his sanctuary;
   praise him in his mighty firmament!
Praise him for his mighty deeds;
   praise him according to his surpassing greatness!

Praise him with trumpet sound;
   praise him with lute and harp!
Praise him with tambourine and dance;
   praise him with strings and pipe!
Praise him with clanging cymbals;
   praise him with loud clashing cymbals!
Let everything that breathes praise the Lord!
Praise the Lord! (Psalm 150)


Psalm 151 is found in the Septuagint but not the Masoretic text of the Bible Jews, Roman Catholics, and Protestants do not include it as canonical but several Eastern churches do.


I've written this earlier, but it's worth repeating: there are many connections of the Psalms with the New Testament. Psalms are referenced in the New Testament include 2, 22, 34, 69, 78, 89, 110, and 118, and also 33, 35, 39, 50, 102, 105, 106, 107, 116, 119, 135, 145, and 147. Several psalm passages are understood to be fulfilled in, or connected to Jesus (Matt. 13:35 and Ps. 78:3, John 19:24 and Ps. 22:18, John 19:36 and Ps. 34:20, Acts 2:25-35 and Ps. 16:8-11, 132:11, and 110:1).(See McCann, pp. 672-675). We also find connections in Acts 4:11 and Psalm 118:22, Acts 4:25-26 and Psalm 2:1, Hebrews 1:8 and Psalm 45:6-7, Hebrews 1:10 and Psalm 102:25, and notably Hebrews 1:13 and Psalm 110:1. Luke T. Johnson notes how artfully Mark 15:23-27 weaves Psalm verses in his depiction of the crucifixion: Ps. 69:21, Ps. 22:18, Ps. 22:7, Ps. 109:25, Ps. 22:8, Ps. 22:1, Ps. 69:21: see his The Writings of the New Testament, (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1986), 139.

In a post that was originally an appendix to my book (above), I listed the many references to Psalms (and other OT passages) in the Gospel narratives of Jesus' suffering and death: Nearly all these Psalm references come from Psalms of King David, connecting Jesus’ sufferings with those of his ancestor David and thus saying something about the necessity of Jesus' passion.

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