Week 88: Psalms Part 10
The Psalms’ view of God
The Psalms are remarkably balanced in their view of God. We have already seen how his transcendence (Elohim) is balanced by his immanence (Yahweh).
The Psalms encourage us to magnify God, not because we can make him bigger, but so that our view of him may be enlarged.
The Psalms tell us about God’s attributes – that is, what he is. Psalms 8, 9, 29, 103, 104, 139, 148 and 150 are good examples of this. Psalm 139 describes his omnipotence (i.e. he is all-powerful), his omniscience (he is all-knowing) and his omnipresence (he is everywhere).
The Psalms also tell us about God’s actions – that is, what he does. Psalms 33, 36, 105, 111, 113, 117, 136, 146 and 147 are good examples of this. In particular we learn about his two major acts:
- creation (e.g. Psalms 8 and 19) and
redemption (e.g. Psalm 78, which tells the story of the Exodus).
The Psalms tell us that God is Shepherd, Warrior, Judge, Father and, above all, King.
In view of these attributes and actions of God, it is no surprise that in the Psalms theology very quickly becomes doxology. Truth leads inevitably to praise.
Using the Psalms today
It is clear from the New Testament’s use of the Psalms that it is legitimate and desirable for Christians to use them. The songs in the New Testament are modelled on the Psalms (e.g. Luke chapters 1 and 2). The apostles turn to the Psalms when they are under pressure (e.g. Acts 4), and they often use them when they are preaching (e.g. Acts 13).
The writer of the Letter to the Hebrews quotes the Psalms extensively. Each of the first five chapters of Hebrews includes a reference to one or more psalms.
Jesus quoted from the Psalms in his public teaching (e.g. the Sermon on the Mount), in answering the Jews, while cleansing the Temple and at the Last Supper.
So how should the Psalms be used today?
It is best if they are read aloud or sung. Some of them explicitly encourage shouting! Their impact and value is greatly diminished if they are read silently. Many psalms also encourage bodily movement such as lifting hands, clapping, dancing and looking upwards.
We are commanded in the New Testament to use the Psalms in corporate worship (e.g. Ephesians 5). They can be sung or read aloud to the congregation by singers or readers, or the whole congregation can read, sing (or even shout!) them together.
Clearly the Psalms are meant to be sung to musical accompaniment. As we have already seen, the Hebrew word that we translate as ‘psalm’ literally means ‘pluck’, implying that stringed instruments normally accompanied the singing of psalms (though other instruments are also mentioned in the Book of Psalms). In many psalms the word Selah occurs. It is probably a musical direction to the choir-master meaning ‘pause’ or ‘change key’ or ‘play louder’ or even ‘lift up your voices at this point’.
How should we sing psalms today? I think they should be sung ‘whole’. Too many songs, choruses and hymns use only parts of a psalm, and in doing so they violate its original sense and context.
Some psalms can be sung in metrical verse (as is often done in churches in Scotland). Some psalms are well suited to being sung by a choir. The Psalms are also well suited to private use. Here are some guidelines:
- Reading one psalm per day is a good habit.
- Some psalms are ideal bedtime reading. They can be a help against destructive emotions and bad dreams.
- Read psalms even when they don’t seem to be relevant to your circumstances, because there will come a time when they will be.
- Try giving a title to the psalm – this will help you to concentrate on its content.
- Translate the psalm into your own words. (See my examples earlier in the chapter.)
- Some psalms are a great comfort when you are ill – or even when you are dying.
While there is great value in studying the Psalms, we derive the greatest benefit from them as we use them in our lives. We discover their true beauty and power when we read them aloud, sing them, and shout them. The Psalms are meant to lead us into a passionate praise that glorifies God.