For years I scoffed at people who read through the Bible but break up Psalms and Proverbs so they don’t have to slog through. Suck it up! I thought from my lofty idealistic perch.
Well, now that I’m the one slogging through nothing but Psalms day after day, I repent.
It seems obvious now that they weren’t meant to be read together any more than your hymnal. Of course, that doesn’t mean you can’t read your hymnal cover to cover and get some nifty insights out of it. Or that reading straight through Psalms hasn’t been valuable in its own right.
In reading these one after another patterns start to emerge. Some are like proverbs, detailing the way the world is; some are more focused on what was. Some are cries for justice, others for mercy. Here are a few things I’ve noticed thus far.
Blessing Here and Now?
There are many times the psalmist writes about how the righteous can expect material blessing in this life and the wicked ruin. This makes me nervous because it comes closer than I like to the false teachings of Prosperity heard around the world. It especially stands out after reading Job, where that expectation is the tension that drives the whole book. It’s obvious that’s not always true, people don’t always get what they deserve in this life, but it’s clear that’s the way things should be.
I think the shift from Israel to the Church changes this equation. God often did give Israel prosperity in obedience and pain in disobedience, but that’s not the norm we see in the New Testament. Jesus was perfect, yet He suffered tremendously on the cross. He told His disciples they would suffer too. It’s a recurring theme that those who do right in following Jesus will face trouble for all the same reasons He did, and that our reward is not something we should expect this side of Christ’s return.
Rejoice! Be glad! Rejoice Again!
I can come off as a pretty serious person sometimes, and when I sit down with Scripture I usually come with my game face. Let’s do this! Let’s figure this out! But even I can’t help but laugh at myself when over and over Scripture tells me to rejoice. Here I am so focused on finding deep theological truths that I almost miss the heart of the psalmist! God is worthy of praise, so get to it! What are you waiting for? Rejoice!
These are worship songs, so how foolish would it be to focus on content over command? Sing to Him! Tell of His wonderful deeds! Glorify His name! There’s so much joy bursting from the pages I’m jealous, I want in. And the invitation is right there, over and over again.
Why Worship This God?
In every call to worship there’s a rationale, a prompt, a message to put your heart in the right place. The essence of the Christian worldview emerges as the psalmist repeatedly paints aspects of reality.
- God is powerful. He created and sustains all things. Creation testifies of Him and glorifies Him.
- God is good. He kept His covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; He redeemed Israel from Egypt; He sustained them in the wilderness—all the while enduring their wickedness and disbelief.
- We are God’s people. Originally written to the Israelites but no less true of the Church as the branch grafted onto the tree, this good, wise, powerful God is our God. He is committed to us. We are His!
- God will judge. Not generally the most popular message of the faith, but so very crucial: God will deliver His people again and righteousness will reign forever. The wicked still have time to repent before it’s too late.
Restore Us That We May Worship You
I can’t say this is a huge theme over the course of the book, but it’s one I’ve seen a few times, and it fascinates me. The first part speaks of forgiveness, blessing, and empowering to do good; he’s asking God to change them. The second is the reason, that God would be worshiped. It’s not that we worship so God will act, although I’m sure that’s fine too. It’s not even change us so that we will be good, at least not at the primary level. It’s an interesting combination. What’s clear is that God cares deeply about worship and we should too. If you’re not able to for whatever reason, ask God for help.
That Salvation Would Come to the Nations
As much as the Psalms focus on Israel and what God has done for her, God and the psalmist are passionate about including the rest of the world. With all the cries for relief from oppression and judgment for oppressors, the message to the nations is actually a positive one. Salvation is for everyone. This really touches me because I’m not a Jew and God has obviously done such great things for His chosen people. But He included even me, a European mutt gentile. In fact, God blessed Israel so that salvation would come to all the nations. And in a sense it has! Thanks to the work of Jesus, all are included. Salvation is available to all, the message has been heard in nearly every land. His faithfulness to His people demonstrates to the world that this God is worthy of praise, deserving of trust.
Of course, all that barely scratches the surface. Have any other themes in Psalms really grabbed you?