December 15, 2017

Psunday Psalms: Psalms 3-18

King David, Chagall

Psunday Psalms
Devotional Thoughts on the Psalms

* * *

But You, O Lord, are a shield about me… (Ps. 3:4)

For you surely bless the righteous man, O Lord,
encompassing him with favor like a shield. (Ps. 5:13)

I look to God to shield me… (Ps. 7:11)

O Lord, my crag, my fortress, my rescuer,
my God, my rock in whom I seek refuge,
my shield, my mighty champion, my haven. (Ps. 18:2)

He is a shield to all who seek refuge in Him. (Ps. 18:30)

You have given me the shield of your protection. (Ps. 18:35)

* * *

The Book of Psalms is a five-part book:

  • Book I (1-41)
  • Book II (42-72)
  • Book III (73-89)
  • Book IV (90-106)
  • Book V (107-150)

Each book ends with a benediction (41:13, 72:18-20, 89:52, 106:48, 145:21), and the book as a whole ends with a group of praise songs (146-150). In general, the whole book moves from lament to praise. Edited and put together during and after the Exile, the Book of Psalms answers questions raised by this calamitous experience and encourages God’s scattered people to put their hope in his promises to David and his faithfulness to all generations.

We have looked at the two introductory psalms; now we move into Book I.

David, Chagall

The first thing to note in Psalms 3-41 is that almost every psalm has a heading linking it to David.

The second thing to note is that most of these psalms are individual laments.

We have been making the point that Psalm 2 sets forth the main content and message of the Book of Psalms:

  • The Lord reigns (despite all appearances).
  • We now live in a time when the “nations rage” against the Lord.
  • Nevertheless, the Lord will ultimately rule through his anointed King (Messiah)
  • Blessed is the person who takes refuge in the Lord

The psalms in Books I-II of Psalms (3-41/42-72) reflect the battle that is now taking place and the cries of God’s people, as represented by David. According to the Biblical story, David came to the throne through exile, conflict, and suffering. He had to “wait on the Lord” through much opposition and many trials and battles before he experienced his triumphant reign. In these early sections of Psalms, we read David’s laments and see how he “took refuge” in God from his enemies.

Another point we have made is that these psalms are meant to be read contemplatively. To facilitate this, the editors of the Book of Psalms have arranged the individual psalms in groupings that contain similar themes and key words. When reading the psalms, these groupings provide a rich, complex feast for those who come to the table to feed on God’s instruction (torah) and engage him in prayer.

Starting off, we can look at Psalms 3-18 as a grouping of psalms tied together by common words and themes. The verses at the top of the post all use the word, “shield,” for example. A word used even more extensively is “righteousness” —

  • Answer me when I call, O God of my righteousness! (4:1)
  • Offer the sacrifices of righteousness (4:5)
  • O Lord, lead me in Your righteousness because of my foes. (5:8)
  • For it is You who blesses the righteous man, O Lord. (5:12)
  • The Lord judges the peoples;
    Vindicate me, O Lord, according to my righteousness and my integrity that is in me.
    O let the evil of the wicked come to an end, but establish the righteous;
    For the righteous God tries the hearts and minds.
    My shield is with God,
    Who saves the upright in heart.
    God is a righteous judge,
    And a God who has indignation every day. (7:8-11)
  • I will give thanks to the Lord according to His righteousness. (7:17)
  • For You have maintained my just cause;
    You have sat on the throne judging righteously. (9:4)
  • And He will judge the world in righteousness. (9:8)
  • If the foundations are destroyed,
    What can the righteous do?” (11:3)
  • The Lord tests the righteous and the wicked. (11:5)
  • For the Lord is righteous, He loves righteousness;
    The upright will behold His face. (11:7)
  • For God is with the righteous generation. (14:5)
  • He who walks with integrity, and works righteousness. (15:2)
  • As for me, I shall behold Your face in righteousness. (17:15)
  • The Lord has rewarded me according to my righteousness. (18:20)
  • Therefore the Lord has recompensed me according to my righteousness. (18:24)

Like a constant refrain in a song, these words and themes appear over and over and over again, to help us in our meditation and contemplation.

 

I encourage you to take time this week to read through Psalms 3-18 many, many times.

As often as you can, do so aloud, and if possible, while walking or pacing.

Observe and trace the key themes and words.

Get the flavor of what is being said. Chew on these words, thoughts, concepts.

Turn them into prayer; ask God to help you understand and assimilate what is being said.

We have only mentioned two of the themes that pervade this grouping of psalms — what others become apparent as you “meditate” on these prayers “day and night?”

Comments

  1. Reading through those Psalms sounds like a good idea CM. I always have issues with the Psalms because they’re so poetical and I usually have issues understanding poetry. It seems like poetry is the art of taking a one sentence thought and stretching it out over several verses or stanzas, which always annoys me because I am all about concise thoughts.

    • SRQTom, I felt the same way, and then one day I realized that most of the music I enjoyed had lyrics that did similar repeats and stretches, including repeating choruses or phrases. For some reason, this insight eventually made it much easier to recognize and accept it in ancient literature as well as co temporary music.

  2. I have to confess I’d never seen the structure behind how the book of Psalms is laid out before. Thanks, CM! I think I’ll take you up on reading 3-18 over and over again.

  3. CM, how do you deal with the violent imagery in the Psalms, found not only in the “vengeance Psalms” like 137 and 104 but in others as well? I have my own answer, or rather my own set of partial answers, but I’m curious what you say.

    • The Bible is a divine-human book. Psalms are the open-hearted expressions of people. Those expressions are not always nice or right or loving. We can learn from these examples that it is always right to express our feelings in God’s presence. It does not mean that we have to think every one of those expressions reflects language or sentiment of which God approves.

  4. I recently discovered the “Treasury of David” by Charles Spurgeon, which is a very thoughtful, in-depth, and pastoral commentary on each Psalm. It is in the public domain, but I purchased one for my Nook which had a thorough index.

    It is available on the internet here:

    http://www.spurgeon.org/treasury/treasury.htm