This book is probably the most well known, and the most quoted book in the Bible. There are no chapters, only Songs. Music is a universal language.
There are glad songs and sad songs, songs of penitence and songs of praise, of distress, of deliverance and of delight.
Some are sung flat on the face, others upright and dancing, some are sung at night, some throughout the day, some when feasting, others when fasting.
Every human experience is expressed in the book of Psalms.
The central verse in the bible is to be found within these pages and it sums up the message of the book.
8 It is better to trust in the LORD than to put confidence in man.
9 It is better to trust in the LORD than to put confidence in princes.
Verse 8 is repeated as though to emphasise that it is better to trust in the Lord than put confidence in the BEST of men- princes. It is not wrong to put confidence in man or princes but it is better to trust in the Lord.
FAITH lays hold of God’s truth/word and joins man to God. To believe in God is to believe in his word. His word is synonymous with his name, and His name spells out his character. Everyone believes in "God", but they don’t all have a god with the same characteristics. Only ONE is the true God, and He is the God of the OLD and the NEW Testaments. He is the God of Jesus Christ.
From Hebrews Ch.ll we can see that faith is the same in the Old Testament as in the New. More than anything else, it is faith that God wants to see in his people.
God is GOOD and God is GREAT.
Before Christ, faith in the goodness of God for it was was revealed in Providence
and faith the greatness of God was revealed in Creation.
After Christ, faith in the goodness of God is seen in Calvary
and faith in His greatness in the Resurrection.
The great PROBLEM OF LIFE is why does a God so good and so great allow such and such to happen? Or how to reconcile His ability and character with the awful injustices of life.
The big question of faith comes down to "Is He good but not great enough? Is He great but not Good enough?
The Book of Psalms is set in distinct and convenient divisions or sections;
SECTION HEADING KEY PSALM
1. Psalms 1-41 The Problem Psalm 22
2. Psalms 42-72 Prayer Psalm 51
3. Psalms 73-89 Sanctuary. Psalm 84
4. Psalms 90-106 Meditation Psalm 103
5. Psalms 107-150 Music Psalm 119.
SECTION ONE: Psalms 1-41
THE PROBLEM- THE CONFLICT OF FAITH
In the first Psalm we see the Philosophy of the Old Testament.It is based on the Law of Moses. It was the philosophy of Job’s friends.
It simply stated that the godly would prosper and the ungodly would suffer punishment. (blessings or a curse - a judgement)
Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful.
But his delight is in the law of the LORD; and in his law doth he meditate day and night.
And he shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that bringeth forth his fruit in his season; his leaf also shall not wither; and whatsoever he doeth shall prosper.
The ungodly are not so: but are like the chaff which the wind driveth away.
Therefore the ungodly shall not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous.
Unfortunately life is not so simple and almost inevitably in Psalm 2 we have the heathen raging and in Psalm 3, we have the ungodly chiding the godly and saying “Where is the help for him in God”
It becomes patently obvious as one reads the Psalms that experience, and indeed Psalm 1 does not match the philosophy for the godly are suffering and the ungodly are running riot.
It would seem that the “ideal” does not work.
Therefore Satan is able to insinuate that something is wrong either with God or Man. (needless to add, it is his secret “spanner in the works” that has caused it not to function)
In Genesis he slanders God to Man and in Job he slanders Man to God. His intention is to separate man and God from their union of trust. He seeks to destroy Man’s faith. Man is linked to God. God’s truth is linked to Mans trust.
Adam separated himself from God after he believed the devil’s insinuations
Job, (like Jesus) maintained his trust. He held on even though his beliefs and philosophies previously held, seemed to be in ruins. “though He slay me. Yet will I trust Him”
SECTION 2: PRAYER Psalms 42-47
Prayer is always second to faith. Prayer springs to life in problems. Real prayer is not controllable. Habitual prayers ends when trouble comes. Thus the conflict of faith causes Man to seek God more intensely. Prosperous trouble free years are more likely to be prayerless years.
From God’s point of view, because he likes his children to talk to Him, and he loves to show himself as a loving father whom they can trust, we can see why he allows trouble to cross our path. They may seem like stumbling blocks to our progress in the flesh, but really they are signposts pointing upwards.
There are many forms of prayer in this section;
1 Crying: this is the simplest form. Babies in a state of helplessness.
2. Complaining; Count the number of times the Psalmist asks the question “Why?”. Or the times he tells God what is going on, as though God doesn’t know already
In a prayer meeting in Manchester in the 60’s a dear lady prayed “...and Lord as you would have read in the paper this morning”
3. Confessing: After blaming all and sundry, we begin to look within. Sometimes we even question whether the Lord is responsible for our troubles, and then we begin to ask if we are the cause of our own problems. Someone once said “If I could kick in the pants the person responsible for most of my problems, I wouldn’t be able to sit down for a week”
4: Consecration & Commitment to God’s will:
5.. Confidence: a right relationship is restored and trust is re-established. Our need for God is paramount. To fall out with him would be to cut off our nose to spite our face. God is Good, every good thing comes from above. Every bad thing comes form beneath. Why God allows it, we commit ourselves to His higher wisdom, knowing and believing that all things work together for good.
Psalm 72 v 20 “The prayers of David are ended”
THE SANCTUARY; Ps. 73-84.
a) Prayer leads to STILLNESS. God waits for all to cease before He speaks. (cf. Job and Elijah)
If you’re not quiet you cant hear anything. If God is to provide the answer to our problems we have to listen for an answer.
b) STILLNESS is the gateway into the SANCTUARY.
The sanctuary is a quiet place and a Holy place.
“There is a place of quiet rest, near to the heart of God
A place where sin cannot molest, near to the heart of God ”
“Be still and know that I am God”
Rejoicing experiences are sometimes shallow because this section is skipped over within the process of moving from Problem to Praise
c) Not all prayer is vocal or verbal. Here we are still in that attitude and atmosphere of prayer; In the Quietness of the Holy Place, we come to the SOLUTION.
Ps. 73 is a classic Psalm, and merits much exposition, but we are seeking only to outline these studies here. The reader would do well to read and meditate on this Psalm to grasp the importance of it.
Truly God is good to Israel, even to such as are of a clean heart.
But as for me, my feet were almost gone; my steps had well nigh slipped.
For I was envious at the foolish, when I saw the prosperity of the wicked.
For there are no bands in their death: but their strength is firm.
They are not in trouble as other men; neither are they plagued like other men.
Therefore pride compasseth them about as a chain; violence covereth them as a garment.
They set their mouth against the heavens, and their tongue walketh through the earth.
And they say, How doth God know? and is there knowledge in the most High?
Behold, these are the ungodly, who prosper in the world; they increase in riches.
Verily I have cleansed my heart in vain, and washed my hands in innocency.
For all the day long have I been plagued, and chastened every morning.
If I say, I will speak thus; behold, I should offend against the generation of thy children.
When I thought to know this, it was too painful for me;
Until I went into the sanctuary of God;then understood I their end.
Surely thou didst set them in slippery places: thou castedst them down into destruction.
How are they brought into desolation, as in a moment! they are utterly consumed with terrors.
As a dream when one awaketh; so, O Lord, when thou awakest, thou shalt despise their image.
Thus my heart was grieved, and I was pricked in my reins.
So foolish was I, and ignorant: I was as a beast before thee.
Nevertheless I am continually with thee: thou hast holden me by my right hand.
Thou shalt guide me with thy counsel, and afterward receive me to glory.
Whom have I in heaven but thee? and there is none upon earth that I desire beside thee.
My flesh and my heart faileth: but God is the strength of my heart, and my portion for ever.
For, lo, they that are far from thee shall perish: thou hast destroyed all them that go a whoring from thee.
But it is good for me to draw near to God: I have put my trust in the Lord GOD, that I may declare all thy works.
The Psalmist is moved from the human viewpoint to the divine, from the animalistic to the spiritual, from the temporary to the eternal.
The Nature of faith:
It is but Human nature to question in times of crisis. Sometimes our questions can be rooted in unbelief and at other times have their source in faith. It is significant that both Mary, when told she was to give birth to a son, and Zachariah who was told that he would become a father ( of John the Baptist) both raised the same question. “How shall these things be”. Zachariah was struck dumb because of his unbelief who questioned how such a thing could be possible, but Mary’s question was to understand how it was all going to happen, not that it wouldn’t happen. It is God who knows the heart.
Not only our words but similar actions or behaviour can be in unbelief or faith. Supposing, a preacher takes an engagement to preach a distance from his home. Half way there, the fog may descend. He has a choice, either to pull over and park in a hotel over-night or struggle on through the dangerous fog. Both actions could be done in unbelief and both could be done in faith. One might believe that God would guide him through the fog, the other would believe that God would provide another speaker, having shown his will that he should not go there. He would then rest overnight in complete faith. In contrast the one who proceeds could carry on in unbelief in the sovereignty of God, to undertake.
However within this section we see the questions that are fundamental to our faith. To believe without having the answers to these questions would be to abandon reason. The scriptures exhort us to be able to give a reason for our faith.
1. Does God know? Ps 73 :11-14.
2. Can God? Psalm 78:19 “Yea, they spake against God; they said, Can God furnish a table in the wilderness?”
3. Will God? Psalm 78:65. “Then the Lord awaked as one out of sleep, and like a mighty man that shouteth by reason of wine.”
The disciples in the boat asked the question of their “sleeping” God, “Carest thou not that we perish? He awoke and calmed the sea.
Thus led from our problems in the light of the prosperity of others we lose sight of both us and others to contemplate the character of God.
The Sanctuary leads us to the next section:
THE MEDITATIONS OF MOSES. Ps 90-106.
These Psalms are mainly historical. They are reflections on past experiences in the light of present experiences. If ever one is stuck in a rut in a car and you cant get a grip to go forward, it is sometimes possible to go backwards first. The words of an old chorus come to mind;
“when I remember what he’s done for me- I’ll never go back any more”
In these Psalms we see both man and God contrasted.
God is a faithful, forebearing, forgiving Father.
Man is fickle, frustrating and fading; - Ps 90 “as a tale that is told”
Man is remembered as a perishing nation in a wilderness, who changes and fails, but God is a Rock, ever present, unchanging. He is the home of the soul
Psalm 91:1; He that dwelleth in the secret place of the most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty.
Psalm 91:14 Because he hath set his love upon me, therefore will I deliver him: I will set him on high, because he hath known my name.
The Names of God depict his character; within this section three names of God are mentioned
El-Elyon- Most High God God of History Over us.
El-Shaddai- Almighty God Present Experience Around us.
El-Olam- Everlasting God Future Before us.
This section ends with Hallelujahs! A triumphant end to meditation
Psalm 106:48 Blessed be the LORD God of Israel from everlasting to everlasting: and let all the people say, Amen. Praise the LORD.
MUSIC. Psalm 107-150
This is the last and longest. To paraphrase an old adage; “he who rejoices last. rejoices longest”. The Devil does definitely not get the last laugh.
Our old hymn books usually begin with praise, but God’s hymn book here ends with praise.
So from a Problem of Faith to prayer, to quiet meditation and taking stock with a spiritual calculator, we come to Praise and rejoicing.
There are three main songs:
1. Songs of Thanksgiving; 107-118 Satisfaction- in the goodness of God
2. Songs of Law & Grace. 119-135. Security under the Law
3. Songs of Glory . 136-150 Salvation
Songs of Thanksgiving follow directly after meditation. As the chorus says;
When I think of the goodness of Jesus and all that He’s done for me.
My soul cries out Hallelujah! Praise God for saving me.
Songs of Law & Grace.
Psalm 119 is one of the most fruitful studies one can employ in the Old Testament Today we are under the new covenant of grace, but who can say that we rejoice in that grace as much as David rejoiced in the law. There are many wonderful verses in Psalm 119. Every verse almost has a synonym for the law. David is seen, as though he is skipping along within the tramlines of the law, with no desire to endanger himself by stepping outside of it. He is safe and secure within these lines of limitation. He finds perfect liberty within the “bondage” of the law.
In the New Testament the blessing is very similar. We are under grace but we nail our ear to the doorpost and say “I love my master I will not go out free”. David responded to the law as all should have responded. But our flesh is weak and the flesh fails. Grace brings the same response in the new. One of freedom and security, anchored in the love of God, yet we sing ;
“Make me a captive Lord and then I shall be free,
Force me to render up my sword and I shall conqueror be”
The Psalms 120-135 are known as Songs of | Degrees. Fifteen psalms, each one sung as one ascended each of the fifteen steps up to the temple. From the depths of to the heights. Surely songs of grace. From the guttermost to the uttermost.
Songs of Glory!
What a finish! Praise is the final note of experience for the people of God.
The last five Psalms present a final vision of David, where everything in the universe contributes to the Praise and glory of God - Musical instruments, nature and mankind.
In summary we can say that Experience here is very complex and complexing.
At Bootle Grammar School for Boys, in 1951, the Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra came to give a concert to lads who quite honestly would have been classed as philistines when it came to classical music. There confession was expressed in humour when they applauded wildly after the orchestra had merely finished tuning up. When eventually after two hours it was finished, they were so relieved they cheered and waved most enthusiastically. Unfortunately for these Philistines they did not know that such an applause was the signal for another piece to be played by the orchestra.
This life is but the tuning up of the orchestra. One day everything that God has created will join in harmony and synchronisation to praise the great Creator God.
F B Meyer, once described the cross as “God’s tuning fork”.
Psalm 1 which gave rise to the problem in the first place, is the word of God and will always be the word of God. It is true and it is the Eternal truth.
It may not seem true now, and it may seem out of place as Psalm 1. For if it had been written as Psalm 151 we would have no problem with it at all.