And be not drunken with wine, wherein is riot, but be filled with the Spirit; speaking one to another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord (Ephesians 5:18-19).
In the middle of our Bibles we have the song book given by God to His people: the Psalms. The Psalms have encouraged and transformed Israelites and Christians for generations, giving voice to the deepest feelings and yearnings of God’s people, allowing them to convey their praise, their laments, and their thanksgivings before God.
Until the eighteenth century the songbook of Christianity was heavily dependent on the Psalms across confessional lines. It has only been in the past three hundred years, and particularly among Evangelical groups and even in churches of Christ, that hymnody has almost entirely replaced psalmody. Some psalms have been put to effective tunes and remain relevant in churches (Psalms 23 and 148 in particular); many hymns feature themes, illustrations, and even some verses from the psalms. Nevertheless, in general, the Psalms have been lost as a fundamental source of song, prayer, and meditation by the people of God as they had been for generations in the past.
This loss is tragic; if the matter involved the nature or identification of the church, a hot button moral issue, etc., preachers, teachers, elders, and “brotherhood publications” would be all over it with a cry for a need to “restore the ancient order.” In every other part of our “liturgy” we have been careful to root all we do in the Word of God, using Biblical commands, examples, and inferences, and in every way attempt to stay closely aligned with the text; after all, that is why we do not use instruments along with the singing (Ephesians 5:19, Colossians 3:16). Yet the Psalms remain sidelined, no longer the primary fount of inspiration for song, left as an ancient relic with the apparent smell of denominationalism (God forbid that the denominations feature part of God’s Word prominently in their song and prayer!).
There are many great hymns that have been written over the past two millennia; this is not a call to abandon hymnody. But we cannot seriously claim to seek to restore the ancient order, to seek to restore the Bible to its proper place in our lives, and yet not allow the Psalms to saturate, dictate, and give expression to our song and prayer lives as they did for generations of Israelites, for Jesus, the Apostles, early Christians, and Christians for 1700 years. The time is long past to restore the Psalms in Christian song, prayer, meditation, and service.
Name and Authorship
“Psalms” derives from the Greek word psalmos, originally meaning the twanging of an instrument but taking on the meaning of “a song.” Such is the name given to the Psalms in the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Old Testament; it translates Hebrew mizmor, “song,” a term frequently used to introduce psalms (e.g. Psalm 3:1). Yet the Hebrew name for the Psalms is tehillim, “praise,” exemplifying the ultimate purpose of the psalms, to give praise to God for who He is, what He has done, how He sustains His creation, and what He has promised to do.
Psalms are most frequently associated with David, king of Israel, to whom 73 psalms are attributed (cf. 1 Samuel 16:16-23, 2 Samuel 23:1). Other authors of psalms include the Sons of Korah, who wrote 11 psalms (cf. Numbers 16), Asaph, who wrote 12 psalms (cf. 1 Chronicles 16:17; 12 psalms), and Solomon, Moses, Heman the Ezrahite, and Ethan the Ezrahite, who each wrote one psalm. Many are not specifically attributed to any particular author; some have speculated that many of these “anonymous” psalms, while often independent works, maintain a continuity of theme with the previous psalm with an attributed author.
Moses lived around 1450 BCE; the persons named as other psalm authors lived during the United Monarchy around 1000-900 BCE. Some psalms speak as being written in Babylonian exile (ca. 580 BCE; Psalm 137). While a large number of the Psalms were most likely written by 900 BCE, the collection of Psalms in the form we have it today was established between 500 and 200 BCE, most likely in the 5th or 4th centuries BCE (499-300 BCE).
The base text used to translate the Psalms in most English Bibles comes from Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia (BHS), derived from the Masoretic Hebrew text (MT) preserved in the Leningrad Codex (1008 CE).
The MT of Psalms has accrued many errors in transmission, as is consistent with Hebrew poetry, and many variants have been found in translations in other languages. Therefore English translations will frequently appeal to other textual authorities to explain textual variants, believing that some translations are more faithfully preserving the original Hebrew (called the Vorlage, the original text upon which the translation is made) than the MT.
Among the Dead Sea Scrolls (DSS) more texts and fragments were found of the Psalms than any other book (30+ copies and fragments of 115 psalms). 4QPs preserves Books 1 and 2 of the Psalms in close to canonical order. 11QPs preserves another 39 psalms of Books 4 and 5 but in a very different order than the canonical order. Psalms beyond the canonical collection were found as well. Many newer translations take DSS variants into account.
The Septuagint (LXX) is the Greek translation of the Old Testament. The LXX of Psalms was most likely translated in the third or early second century BCE. The LXX includes the apocryphal Psalm 151. MT/English Psalms 9 and 10 were rightly seen by the Septuagint translators as one psalm; the translator divided MT/English Psalm 147 into two in order to reach 150 psalms. This is why many references for Psalms 10-147 will provide the reference to the numbering of the Psalm in MT/English and Greek/Latin [since Jerome in the Latin Vulgate kept the LXX numbering system; e.g. Psalm 51 (Psalm 50 LXX)]. The many variations between the LXX and the MT led later Jews to “re-translate” the Hebrew into Greek to provide a more harmonized text: Aquila (2nd century CE), Symmachus (late 2nd century CE), and Theodotion (ca. 150 CE).
The Peshitta is the Syriac translation of the Old Testament, most likely translated from the Hebrew in the second century CE.
In Latin the Vetus Latina (“Old Latin”, or OL) is an important witness to the Psalms; translated from the LXX, it would become the foundation for Jerome’s translation of the Vulgate into Latin from Hebrew in the late fourth century CE.
The Aramaic Targum of Psalms, while not completed until much later, most likely contains Second Temple period interpretations of psalms and is often cited as a witness to textual variants.
Inspiration of the Psalms
Every scripture inspired of God is also profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for instruction which is in righteousness. That the man of God may be complete, furnished completely unto every good work (2 Timothy 3:16-17).
The authors of the New Testament never doubted the inspiration of the Psalms. Jesus affirmed that David said Psalm 110:1 in the Holy Spirit (Mark 12:35-37); Peter declares the same regarding Psalms 2:1, 69:25, 109:8 (Acts 1:16, 20, 4:25). On many other occasions the Apostles will quote David as the author of Psalms authoritatively (e.g. Acts 2:25, 34, Romans 4:6-8).
Nevertheless, the Psalms contain some difficult statements that cannot easily be reconciled with what we know as good theology in the rest of Scripture. The idea that YHWH would be asleep and would miss things taking place, as seen in Psalm 44:23, is at variance with Isaiah 40:28; Psalm 51:5 is at variance with Jesus’ portrayal of children in Matthew 18:1-5.
We do well to keep in mind that the Psalms are poetry and they give voice to the people of God to express their deepest feelings, needs, and desires before God. There are many important consequences to this truth:
1. While the psalm’s attribution may provide some understanding in meaning, we must resist the temptation to understand the psalm entirely in terms of its author. The author is giving voice to themes, ideas, and feelings beyond himself.
2. The psalm may involve statements that are in reality and fact inaccurate but true to a person’s feeling at the time. The author is giving voice to emotion, feeling, and deep things; such defy rational thought and refuse the strictures of rational thinking. By inspiration the Psalter gives voice to feelings that are not factually true yet exist in response to given circumstances (as in Psalms 44 and 51 above).
3. Psalms frequently feature thematic shifts and upheavals, assisting the petitioner/singer to proceed from one place or emotional state to a very different place (e.g. from despair to confidence in God, Psalms 13, 73). Psalms must be understood first in their entirety, and occasionally even in sequence. We may find ourselves doing grave disservice to Scripture if we take out certain selections of a psalm or psalms and use them as proof-texts for some other purpose that may be antithetical to the psalm’s purpose (contra 2 Timothy 2:15).
In truth these are not really “problems” with Psalms; in its design such poetry as the Psalms intend to give voice to things we cannot otherwise describe. Athanasius spoke of the psalms as comprehending and teaching the emotions of the soul, enabling us to possess the image that we can derive from their words. They are a form of “verbal iconography,” describing God in ways that we can understand but not rationally explain in prose; in a sense they are a form of incarnation, a means by which God comes down to be understood at our level in poetry and metaphor. The Psalms are often brutal but they are always real; they speak to the real condition of mankind, the real cry of the soul, and above all, the reality of YHWH, God of Israel, the Creator God, His love and mercy for His people, who enables all things to be and for whose praise the Psalms all exist.
Thus the Psalms are inspired to give the people of God a voice to express feelings and longings which cannot be expressed in any other way than in poetry and metaphor. As poetry the Psalms can help us understand, in a figure, who God is, who we are, and what God is trying to do; yet, as poetry, we must never use the Psalms in contrast or contradiction to other Scripture that may speak in more literal or concrete ways about the truth of God or our condition.
Another matter of inspiration involves what to do regarding significant variants in the Septuagint (LXX) that have bearing on the Christological interpretation of a psalm (e.g. MT “they are at my hands and feet” vs. LXX “they pierced my hands and feet,” Psalm 22:16). Perhaps it is a matter in which the LXX preserves the text more faithfully than the MT; even if it is a variant introduced in the LXX, it would pre-date Jesus, and may have been made a part of His purpose to fulfill all of what the Psalms said of Him (Luke 24:44). We continue to believe in the inspiration of the author and what was written on the original manuscript (in whatever later copies in whatever language such may be best preserved), yet also must give room for God’s providential working among His people.
We do well to remember that the Psalms are a song and prayer book and their form fits that function. Psalms tend to have a logical progression within them; we will explore that progression as we investigate individual psalms.
Most psalms begin with a superscription, identifying the psalm’s author, and perhaps some information about the situation in or purpose for which the psalm was written. In our Bibles the superscription will also include statements like “to the choirmaster,” or “for the chief musician”‘; in light of Habakkuk 3:19, it seems best to believe this particular direction actually belongs to the previous psalm.
The Psalms are filled with technical directives which we no longer fully understand. Within the text itself selah will be found frequently; it may be a direction for a musical interlude on strings. Most terms are found in the superscription: sheminith, shiggaion, muth-labben, miktam, maskil, Jeduthun, alamoth, malahath (or malahath leannoth), shuhan eduth, gittith; we do not know what they mean. Sometimes it seems that psalms are set to certain tunes named “the doe of the dawn,” “lilies,” “dove on far-off terebinths,” and “do not destroy.”
Hebrew poetry is marked by parallelism; in the Psalms the parallelism can be semantic, syntactic, or accentual. Some have found development of parallelism in Psalms over time from incremental repetition toward interlinear parallelism. The meaning of each parallel verse is focused most frequently in the second verset. The Psalms maintain their great power in no small part because their poetic form can be thus replicated in translation.
Some psalms (e.g. Psalms 9-10, 119, Lamentations 1-4) are acrostic, featuring lines or sections beginning with each letter of the Hebrew alphabet in turn. In some each verset or verse begins with a successive letter of the alphabet; in others, every other line; in Psalm 119, each eight-verse section begins every verse with the same letter of the alphabet, and continues successively with each set of eight (e.g. Psalm 119:1-8 all begin with aleph; vv. 9-16 with bet, etc.).
To the casual reader the Psalms seem to have little discernible order. Psalms is internally divided into five “books”: Book 1 (Psalms 1-41), Book 2 (Psalms 42-72), Book 3 (Psalms 73-89), Book 4 (Psalms 90-106), and Book 5 (Psalms 107-150). The fivefold collection of books is most likely intentional: as Moses gave Israel the five books of Torah (Genesis-Deuteronomy), so there are five books of praise. Each book ends with a doxology, or praise, to God, even if inappropriate for the psalm (Psalms 41:13, 72:18-19, 89:52, 106:48). Psalm 72:20 gives the impression that Book 2, or perhaps Books 1 and 2 together, were once an independent compilation of Psalms. Some have seen various forms of organization in the books: Books 1-3 as the king in prayer, Book 4 as Israel looking back to its heritage after the end of kingship (and perhaps with Book 5 as an answer to Psalm 89), and Book 5 as proclaiming the overcoming the exile, for example.
Many have noted how Psalms 1-2 and 146-150 frame the whole collection of psalms: Psalm 1 affirms the value of wisdom, warning the believer away from the idea that religious behavior can be separated from ethics; Psalm 2 affirms the king and his role; Psalms 146-150 conclude the book with shouts and declarations of praise to YHWH. Internally some organization is by author: Psalms 3-41, 51-72 are of David; Psalms 42-49 are of the sons of Korah; Psalms 72-83 are of Asaph; Psalms 120-134 are “psalms of ascent”. At other times psalms are perhaps ordered for effect (e.g. Psalms 108 and 110, of God’s victory, bracketing Psalm 109 of lament).
Most believe there is some sort of “theological intentionality” in the order of the Psalms however well we are able to discern it. Some of the arrangement may exist to give greater depth to individual psalms than would otherwise be ascertained.
Categorizing the Psalms
And [David] appointed certain of the Levites to minister before the ark of YHWH, and to celebrate and to thank and praise YHWH, the God of Israel (1 Chronicles 16:4).
The Chronicler affirms the notion of considering the Psalms in terms of their ultimate function and thus in categories. All the psalms can be understood ultimately in terms of celebrating (that is, making known or invoking), thanking, or praising YHWH. Yet how those psalms get to the point of making YHWH known, thanking Him, and/or praising Him can differ widely. There are many ways we can categorize the Psalms; let us consider a few general themes.
Psalms of praise are designed to glorify God, magnify His character, and express faith in Him (Psalms 8, 9, 23, 29, 33, 45, 47, 62, 67, 84, 92, 93, 95, 96, 97, 98, 99, 100, 111, 112, 113, 114, 117, 125, 134, 135, 144, 145, 146, 147, 148, 149, 150).
Thanksgiving psalms thank God for all the great things He has done (Psalm 18 (cf. 2 Samuel 22), Psalms 30, 34, 40, 52, 56, 65, 66, 75, 92, 107, 116, 118, 124, 136, 138).
Psalms of lament express great sorrow on account of sin, betrayal, adversity, and destruction, both of the petitioner and done to the petitioner, and request for God to assist (Psalms 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 10, 12, 13, 14, 17, 22, 25, 28, 31, 36, 38, 39, 41, 42, 43, 51, 54, 55, 56, 57, 59, 60, 61, 63, 64, 69, 70, 71, 74, 77, 79, 80, 82, 83, 85, 86, 88, 89, 90, 94, 102, 108, 109, 120, 121, 123, 126, 130, 137, 140, 141, 142, 143).
Messianic psalms speak of the coming Messiah and reign (Psalms 2, 16, 22, 45, 69, 110). Royal psalms are related, praising the king and his lineage, but are not necessarily Messianic in function (Psalms 18, 20, 21, 72, 89, 101, 132).
Wisdom or Instructional psalms use song as a medium for instructing in God’s torah or wisdom (Psalms 1, 4, 11, 15, 19, 24, 26, 27, 32, 34, 37, 49, 50, 53, 73, 91, 119, 127, 128, 131, 133, 139).
Some psalms mirror the messages of the prophets, known as prophetic psalms (Psalms 81, 82, 115).
Many psalms recount Israel’s history for various reasons (Psalms 44, 68, 78, 105, 106).
Other psalms ask to bring down condemnation or difficulty upon enemies, often called imprecatory psalms (Psalms 35, 58, 83, 129).
Other psalms include celebrations of Zion (Psalms 46, 48, 76, 84, 87, 122), the hallel set of psalms (Psalms 113-118; likely what Jesus sang after the Last Supper in Matthew 26:30), and the “songs of ascents” sung by pilgrims heading to Jerusalem (Psalms 120-134).
We do well to remember that whatever scheme of categorization we use is for our benefit in understanding, is not the way God organized the Psalms, and is no substitute for deeper study and appreciation of the individuality of each psalm.
Exploring the Purposes of the Psalms
The Psalms are given “to make known, to thank, and to praise YHWH the God of Israel” (1 Chronicles 16:4). Yet how the psalms are used to do so varied tremendously, and to different ends, at different times and in different places; few parts of the Bible have proven as flexible for multiple purposes in different times, places, and contexts as the Psalms.
As in many other ancient Near Eastern cultures, the “original context” for a good number of the Psalms surrounds the Tabernacle and Temple service of offerings, referred to in scholarly literature as the “cultus” or “cult.” In the Psalms this service centers in the Temple on Mount Zion in Jerusalem and its regular service. David, who is famous in Scripture for psalm writing and whose life events provide the backdrop for many psalms (1 Samuel 16:16-23, 2 Samuel 23:1, Psalm 51:1), established this service for Asaph, Heman, Jeduthun, and others among the Levites to do according to 1 Chronicles 16:4-41, 25:1-31, even before the Temple was built. Such is illustrated in 2 Chronicles 29:25-30 in Hezekiah’s restoration of the Temple service: the Levites would sing the psalms of David and Asaph while appropriate instruments were played, all during the offering of sacrifices. Therefore we do well to first consider whether a psalm has reference to the Temple cult: how might the psalm be used in the Temple service? Would it give voice to an individual worshiper or does it give voice for the collective of Israel? What does the psalm have to say about YHWH, His relationship to the creation, specifically to Jerusalem/Zion, and to His people Israel? How would the use of the psalm in the Temple cult influence its understanding and impact the lives of the Levites who sang them and the worshipers on whose behalf they were sung?
Yet not all Psalms have the Temple in mind; some seem to offer a critique of it (e.g. Psalms 40, 50). Psalm 137 serves as an “anti-psalm,” a song about how the Israelites cannot sing YHWH’s song in a foreign land, their land taken, their Temple desolate. Some psalms were written in light of these circumstances; many others were re-interpreted and understood differently in light of them. Royal psalms were either democratized or seen as Messianic in hope. Psalms would be used to explain situations or contexts beyond their original purpose; consider 1 Maccabees 4:23-25 and its reappropriation of Psalm 136:1:
Then Judas returned to plunder the camp, and they seized a great amount of gold and silver, and cloth dyed blue and sea purple, and great riches. On their return they sang hymns and praises to Heaven–“For he is good, for his mercy endures forever.” Thus Israel had a great deliverance that day (NRSVA).
Likewise, God’s presence with/for Israel is seen as prominently in God’s torah, instruction or law, as it had been seen in the First Temple. Emphasis on torah is not inherently antithetical to emphasis on the Temple, and even early psalms proclaimed both. Nevertheless, during the exilic and Second Temple periods great emphasis was placed on the importance and value of God’s torah and how it sustains and empowers the Israelites in righteousness (as can be seen in Psalms 19, 119). The rise and centrality of the synagogue in local communities of Jews contributed to this emphasis; psalms were no doubt sung by the congregation in the synagogue, for there is evidence that by 150 BCE they were sung in Greek translation in Alexandrian synagogues. We must give consideration, therefore, to how the psalms were understood in reference to Second Temple Judaism. If the psalm has clear reference to the Temple cult, how would its understanding and purpose shift during the Second Temple period? What can be gained from psalms grappling with God’s faithfulness and promises in light of the destruction of Jerusalem, exile, and the seeming fulfillment but not full realization of YHWH’s promise of restoration?
In Luke 24:44 Jesus proclaimed that all things written of Him in the psalms were fulfilled, and ever since, Christians have diligently sought to understand how the psalms point to Jesus and His work. We would be remiss if we did not consider the Christological implications of the psalms: how does the psalm point to Jesus? Does the psalm’s original context highlight or bring into stark relief its Christological fulfillment? How do the variations between the Masoretic Hebrew and the Greek Septuagint influence the Christological aspect of the psalm?
Not for nothing do the Apostles continually speak of God’s new covenant people in Christ in terms of God’s covenant people in physical Israel as the ultimate expression of God’s purposes (Ephesians 3:10-11). Christians are the new Israel of God (Romans 2:25-29, 9:30-33, Galatians 6:16, Philippians 3:3); individually and collectively they are the Temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 3:14-16, 6:18-20, Ephesians 2:20-22, 1 Peter 2:3-8); they are God’s priests and sacrifices, His elect people (Romans 12:1, 1 Peter 2:5, 9); their songs are as harps and their prayers as incense before God (Revelation 5:8). We should not be surprised, therefore, that Paul commands Christians to sing “psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs” (Ephesians 5:19, Colossians 3:16). Many have wondered why Paul uses this particular triad and what distinctions may exist among the three, yet in the Septuagint we see psalms described as all three [e.g. Psalm 3:1 (psalmos, “psalm”), Psalm 53:1 LXX (Psalm 54:1, humnos, “hymn”), Psalm 4:1 (ode, “song”)]. The earliest Christians thus sang the psalms in light of how God was accomplishing His purposes in Christ and through them. Therefore we must consider the pneumatical/ecclesiological functions of each psalm and their place in Christianity: how could the psalm be reasonably sung and understood as Christians in the new covenant? How does the original context of the psalm connect and lead to its understanding in light of Christ and His Kingdom? How can this psalm help inform and strengthen our faith? How could we use this psalm in devotional contexts?
Forms of Interpretation
The Psalms have been subjected to all sorts of forms of interpretation, for good or ill.
As seen above the Second Temple Jews would often interpret the Psalms in terms of their own condition and situation. Such direct application can be fraught with dangers and difficulties if done without regard to original context and meaning; nevertheless, the Psalms often invite consideration and application to times and places quite remote from the original. God does not change; He is the same yesterday, today, and forever (Malachi 3:6, Hebrews 13:8). Who can say that consideration of certain psalms in certain life situations could not be a sign of God’s continual providence and care for His people?
Jesus’ declaration in Luke 24:44 and the New Testament inaugurated the Christological form of interpretation; Christians in the first few centuries after Jesus attempted to find all the ways in which the Psalms pointed to Jesus and rejected any understanding of the psalms that were not Christological. The New Testament rightly invites us to explore the Christological interpretation of psalms but not in violence against its original contextual purpose.
Most early and many medieval Christians advanced typological forms of interpretation, focusing on the “figural” interpretation; Augustine was its strong champion. Such allegorization has the appearance of beauty and wisdom but can too quickly lose its grounding in the original meaning and purpose of the psalm and should be avoided.
The past two hundred years have seen interpretive contests between historical Biblical criticism and criticism using the grammatico-historical method. Both approaches affirm the critical need to first understand the text in context; in so doing historical Biblical criticism is willing to vaunt history and modernist understanding of history to the detriment of the text as revealed while the grammatico-historical method attempts to make sense of the text in its context according to the language and what can be known of the context, always affirming the inspiration and integrity of the text. Historical Biblical criticism makes much of the literary-critical approach as well. A major flashpoint of argument involves the superscriptions of the Psalms, the legitimacy of which is denied by exegetes in the tradition of historical Biblical criticism but fully accepted by those using the grammatico-historical method. In order to get a foundation for understanding a psalm in context, the grammatico-historical method remains the most sound.
Modern exegetes have tended to focus on various forms of literary-critical/analytical criticisms. 1 Chronicles 16:4 seems to justify investigating the Psalms in terms of their forms, yet form criticism of the Psalms did not begin until Wilhelm de Wette in the early nineteenth century and was not pursued in earnest again until the twentieth. Form criticism of the Psalms has also led to exuberance for cult-functional interpretations, attempting to understand the Psalms purely in terms of their Temple function. The “re-discovery” of the form of Biblical poetry by Bishop Robert Lowth in the eighteenth century, and the more recent development of understanding of Hebrew poetry and parallelism instigated by James Kugel and clarified by Adele Berlin and Robert Alter, among others, has led to the popularity of rhetorical criticism of the Psalms. Any investigation of the Psalms now requires consideration of what sort of poetry is being used and to what end, the different images and illustrations, how they get their power, and to what they refer, and investigation into what sorts of literary devices are in play. Rhetorical criticism is a great tool but cannot be an end unto itself. Consideration of the possible original context and purpose of a psalm in light of its form and through literary analysis has its value; literary criticism of the Psalms as a whole, however, puts too much confidence in what the interpreter can see in the text, and often tells you more about the interpreter than the text itself. The evidence of cultic use of the Psalms in 1 and 2 Chronicles commends some sort of cult-functional understanding of psalms; nevertheless, not all psalms were designed for that use.
Canonical criticism of the Psalms has been re-affirmed among more “conservative” exegetes in light of the liberalized interpretations brought forth over the past 200 years, attempting to make sense of the Psalms in their current, canonized form, especially the present order of the Psalms, the fruit of which is seen above. There is benefit in canonical criticism, yet it too is not an end unto itself.
Our way forward will incorporate most of these approaches. To establish the psalm’s basic meaning we will use the grammatico-historical approach primarily with insights from literary-analytical criticism (including form and rhetorical criticism and the cult-functional approach). We will then consider the psalm’s meaning in Second Temple Judaism and early Christianity in light of canonical criticism and the Christological approach, and then consider its standing and value today so as to get to possible direct applications.
What is it then, brethren? When ye come together, each one hath a psalm, hath a teaching, hath a revelation, hath a tongue, hath an interpretation. Let all things be done unto edifying (1 Corinthians 14:26, emphasis mine).
To this day the Psalms have a place in the life of the Christian and in the life of the church to build up each individual Christian and the collective Body of Christ. For good reason the Psalms have sustained the faith and strength of Christians for centuries. The Didascalia of the third century CE declares, “if you yearn for songs, you have the psalms.” Alcuin of the sixth century declares, “no mortal man can fully declare the virtue of the psalms.” To John Donne, the psalms are as the “manna of the church.” If we approach the Psalms with scalpels and attempt to dissect them and think we can come to a full understanding of them in that way we will be sorely disappointed; the Psalms will be left as dead and we will be impoverished. Our investigation into the Psalms must lead to edification: we should bring to bear all forms of interpretation and understanding that helps us understand their meaning, but the goal cannot be to just understand the Psalms as fossils of the past but to give them full life in the here and now.
From the day of their writing until now and to the final day the Psalms are to be sources of meditation, song, and prayer. They continually give the people of God a voice to express their deepest yearnings, concerns, and ultimately praise to YHWH, God of Israel, their Creator God.
Ethan R. Longhenry
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Gerstenberger, Erhard. Psalms Part I with an Introduction to Cultic Poetry [The Forms of the Old Testament Literature (FOTL) Volume XIV]. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1988.
Goldingay, John. Psalms for Everyone, Part 1: Psalms 1-72 (Old Testament for Everyone series). Westminster John Knox Press, 2013.
Goldingay, John. Psalms for Everyone, Part 2: Psalms 73-150 (Old Testament for Everyone series). Westminster John Knox Press, 2014.
Schmutzer, Andrew and Howard, David, editors. The Psalms: Language for All Seasons of the Soul. Moody Publishers, 2013.
Waltke, Bruce and Houston, James. The Psalms as Christian Worship: A Historical Commentary. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2010.
Wright, N.T. The Case for the Psalms: Why They Are Essential. HarperOne, 2013.