Praying the Passion Psalms with the Messiah – D.Bonhoeffer

Book of Psalms

God’s holy history [cf. our previous post on the section “Holy History”] comes to fulfillment in the sending of the Messiah. According to Jesus’ own interpretation, the Psalter has prophesied of this Messiah (Luke 24:44). Psalms 22 and 69 are known to the church as the passion psalms.

Jesus himself prayed the beginning of Psalm 22 on the cross and so clearly made it his prayer. Hebrews 2:12 places verse 22 in the mouth of Christ. Verse 8 and verse 18 are direct predictions of the crucifixion of Jesus. David himself may have once prayed this Psalm in his own song. If so, he did this as the king, anointed by God and therefore persecuted by men, from whom Jesus Christ would descend. He did it as the one who bore Christ in himself.

But Christ himself used this prayer and for the first time gave it its full meaning. We can thus pray this Psalm only in the fellowship of Jesus Christ, as those who have participated in the suffering of Christ. We pray this Psalm, not on the basis of our fortuitous personal suffering, but on the basis of the suffering of Christ which has also come upon us.

But we always hear Jesus Christ pray with us, and through him that Old Testament king; and repeating this prayer without being able to experience it or consider it in its deepest sense, we nevertheless walk with the praying Christ before the throne of God.

Quoted from Psalms, The Prayer Book of the Bible by Dietrich Bonhoeffer (Augsburg, 1974), a translation of Das Gebetbuch der Bibel (the 8th ed. published in Germany in 1966). These thoughts are found in the tenth section, “The Messiah” (pp.36-37), where the author continues to treat the Psalter according to classification by subject.

The Law in the Psalms: “It is grace to know God’s commands.” ~ D. Bonhoeffer

psalms-1

The three Psalms (1, 19, 119), which in a special way make the law of God the object of thanks, praise, and petition seek to show us, above all, the blessing of the law. Under ‘law,’ then, is to be understood usually the entire salvation act of God and the direction for a new life in obedience. Joy in the law and in the commands of God comes to us if God has given the great new direction to our life through Jesus Christ.

…It is grace to know God’s commands. They release us from self-made plans and conflicts. They make our steps certain and our way joyful. God gives his commands in order that we may fulfill them, and ‘his commandments are not burdensome’ (1 John 5:3) for him who has found all salvation in Jesus Christ.

Jesus has himself been under the law and has fulfilled it in total obedience to the Father. God’s will becomes his joy, his nourishment. So he gives thanks in us for the grace of the law and grants to us joy in its fulfillment. Now we confess our love for the law, we affirm that we gladly keep it, and we ask that we may continue to be kept blameless in it. We do that not in our own power, but we pray it in the name of Jesus Christ who is for us and in us.

Psalms-prayer-book-BonhoefferQuoted from Psalms, The Prayer Book of the Bible by Dietrich Bonhoeffer (Augsburg, 1974), a translation of Das Gebetbuch der Bibel (the 8th ed. published in Germany in 1966). These thoughts are found in the eighth section, “The Law” (pp.31-33), where the author continues to treat the Psalter according to classification by subject.

God as Creator-Redeemer in the Psalms

creation-psalm33

…No single Psalm …speaks only of creation. It is always the God who has already revealed himself to his people in his word who is said to be known as the Creator of the world. Because God has spoken to us, because God’s name has been revealed to us, we can believe in him as the Creator. Otherwise we could not know him.

The creation is a picture of the power and faithfulness of God, which he has demonstrated to us in his revelation in Jesus Christ. We worship the Creator who has revealed himself as the Redeemer.

..The creation Psalms are not lyrical poems, but instruction for the people of God in which, coming to know the grace of salvation, they are led to know and to honor the Creator of the world.

The creation serves the believer, and everything created by God is good if received with thanksgiving ( 1 Timothy 4:3f.). But we are able to give thanks only for that which stands in harmony with the revelation of God in Jesus Christ. The creation with all its gifts is there for the sake of Jesus Christ. So we thank God for the grandeur of his creation with, in, and through Jesus Christ, to whom we belong.

Psalms-prayer-book-BonhoefferQuoted from Psalms, The Prayer Book of the Bible by Dietrich Bonhoeffer (Augsburg, 1974), a translation of Das Gebetbuch der Bibel (the 8th ed. published in Germany in 1966). These thoughts are found in the seventh section, “The Creation” (pp.29-30), where the author begins to treat the Psalter according to classification by subject.

“The Psalter impregnated the life of early Christianity.” ~ D. Bonhoeffer

Psalms-prayer-book-BonhoefferIn many churches the Psalms are read or sung every Sunday, or even daily, in succession. These churches have preserved a priceless treasure, for only with daily use does one appropriate this divine prayerbook.

…Therefore, wherever we no longer pray the Psalms in our churches, we must take up the Psalter [the book of Psalms] that much more in our daily morning and evening prayers, reading and praying together at least several Psalms every day so that we succeed in reading through this book a number of times each year, getting into it deeper and deeper. We ought also not to select Psalms at our own discretion, thinking that we know better what we ought to pray than does God himself. To do that is to dishonor the prayerbook of the Bible.

In the ancient church it was not unusual to memorize ‘the entire David.’ In one of the eastern churches this was a prerequisite for the pastoral office. The church father St. Jerome says that one heard the Psalms being sung in the fields and gardens in his time. The Psalter impregnated the life of early Christianity. Yet more important than all of this is the fact that Jesus died on the cross with the words of the Psalter on his lips.

It is at this point that the author makes that powerful point I quoted when we began this series on his book: “Whenever the Psalter is abandoned, an incomparable treasure vanishes from the Christian church. With its recovery will come unsuspected power.”

Quoted from Psalms, The Prayer Book of the Bible by Dietrich Bonhoeffer (Augsburg, 1974), a translation of Das Gebetbuch der Bibel (the 8th ed. published in Germany in 1966). These thoughts are found in the fifth section, “Congregational Worship and the Psalms” (pp.25-26).

Singing Our Prayers in the Psalms

PsalmistDavidThe Psalms were probably most often sung antiphonally. They were particularly well suited for that through the verse form, according to which the two parts of a verse are so connected that they express in different words essentially the same thought. This is called parallelism.

This form is not accidental. It encourages us not to allow the prayer to be cut off prematurely, and it invites us to pray together with one another. That which seems to be unnecessary repetition to us, who are inclined to pray too hurriedly, is actually proper immersion and concentration in prayer. It is at the same time the sign that many, indeed all believers, pray with different words yet with one and the same word. Therefore, the verse form in particular summons us to pray the Psalms together.

Psalms-prayer-book-BonhoefferQuoted from Psalms, The Prayer Book of the Bible by Dietrich Bonhoeffer (Augsburg, 1974), a translation of Das Gebetbuch der Bibel (the 8th ed. published in Germany in 1966). These thoughts are found in the second section, “Who Prays the Psalms?” (pp.23-24)

Published in: on March 25, 2018 at 10:37 PM  Leave a Comment  

Praying Christ’s Prayers in the Psalms – D. Bonhoeffer

How is it possible for a man and Jesus Christ to pray the Psalter [That is, the book of Psalms] together? It is the incarnate Son of God, who has borne every human weakness in his own flesh, who here pours out the heart of all humanity before God and who stands in our place and prays for us. He has known torment and pain, guilt and death more deeply than we. Therefore it is the prayer of the human nature assumed by him which comes here before God. It is really our prayer, but since he knows us better than we know ourselves and since he himself was true man for our sakes, it is also really his prayer, and it can become our prayer only because it was his prayer.

Who prays the Psalms? David (Solomon, Asaph, etc.) prays, Christ prays, we pray. We – that is, first of all the entire community in which alone the vast richness of the Psalter can be prayed, but also finally every individual insofar as he participates in Christ and his community and prays their prayer. David, Christ, the church, I myself, and wherever we consider all of this together we recognize the wonderful way in which God teaches us to pray.

Psalms-prayer-book-BonhoefferQuoted from Psalms, The Prayer Book of the Bible by Dietrich Bonhoeffer (Augsburg, 1974), a translation of Das Gebetbuch der Bibel (the 8th ed. published in Germany in 1966). These thoughts are found in the second section, “Who Prays the Psalms?” (pp.20-21)

David, the Believer, and Christ in Psalm 22

The psalm begins with a section dominated by the agonized prayer of David (vv.1-21). David is expressing in the first place his own experience of feeling abandoned by God. Here is the most intense suffering God’s servant can know – not just that enemies surround him (vv.7, 12-13) and that his body is in dreadful pain (vv.14-16), but that he feels that God does not hear him and does not care about his suffering. And this is not just the experience of David. It is the experience of all God’s people in the face of terrible trouble. We wonder how our loving Father can stand idly by when we are in such distress.

And then after pointing out the faith and hope of David expressed in that deep cry, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me? (v.1), showing that David still held on to the truth that God was his God, Godfrey returns to that idea of God’s apparent abandonment:

John Calvin in his commentary concluded that a sense of being forsaken by God, far from being unique to Christ or rare for the believer, is a regular and frequent struggle for believers. He wrote, ‘There is not one of the godly who does not daily experience in himself the same thing. According to the judgment of the flesh, he thinks he is cast off and forsaken by God, while yet he apprehends by faith the grace of God, which is hidden from the eye of sense and reason.’ We must not think that living the Christian life is easy or that we will not daily have to bear the cross.

But then the author takes us to Christ, in whom these words are fulfilled – for our salvation:

This psalm  is not only the experience of every believer, but it is also a very remarkable and specific prophecy of the sufferings of Jesus. We see the scene of the crucifixion especially clearly in the words, ‘A company of evil doers encircles me; they have pierced my hands and feet – I can count all my bones – they stare and gloat over me; they divide my garments among them, and for my clothing they cast lots’ (vv.16-18). Here we see that indeed this psalm comes to its fullest realization in Jesus.

Jesus knew this psalm and quoted its first words to identify with us in our suffering since He bore on the cross our agony and suffering. ‘Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death’ (Heb.2:14). Jesus does deliver us by becoming our substitute and the sacrifice for our sins.

Learning-love-psalms-Godfrey-2017Taken from W. Robert Godfrey’s new book Learning to Love the Psalms (Reformation Trust, 2017). I am now reading through the sections that treat various psalms from each of the five books into which the Psalter is divided. This is drawn from the author’s explanation of Psalm 22 (Book 1).

For a beautiful arrangement of this Psalm put to music, listen to this video of the Protestant Reformed Psalm Choir (Psalter #47).

Do the Psalms Have An Order and Structure? ~ R. Godfrey (Plus, a New Psalter App!)

Learning-love-psalms-Godfrey-2017I continue to receive rich benefit from reading through the brief but packed chapters of W. Robert Godfrey’s new book Learning to Love the Psalms (Reformation Trust, 2017).

In chapter 7 (“Broader Structures in the Psalter”) the author raises the questions, “Is the book of Psalms as a whole largely random in its order? Is it just an anthology of poems that would mean just the same if the poems were in an entirely different arrangement?”

Based on his personal reading and study of the Psalms as well as on the insights of others, Godfrey has come to see a definite structure and order to the Psalms. Besides the common division of the Psalter into five books (Book 1: Psalms 1-41; Book 2: Psalms 42-72); Book 3: Psalms 73-89; Book 4: Psalms 90-106; Book 5: ;Psalms 107-150), he makes four main points about this structure.

For our purposes today we quote his fourth point, “the most important,” in his estimation:

…The development of the Psalter is not simply a growing emphasis on psalms of praise. Many types of psalms appear in each of the books. Still, in broad terms, we can see a movement in the Psalter. Book One has many psalms that speak of distress on the part of the king and his people yet manifest confidence and praise even in the face of distress. Book Two links that confidence particularly to God’s king, who upholds God’s ways and God’s people in God’s city. Book Three, however, is dominated by a crisis in the kingship of Israel, a kingship that seems to have failed. Book Four presents comfort for king and people in the God who created the world and who made a covenant with Israel at Sinai. Book Five then lifts the praise of king and people to new heights.

Consequently, Godfrey lays out this form of the Psalms this way:

Book One: The King’s Confidence in God’s Care
Book Two: The King’s Commitment to God’s Kingdom
Book Three: The King’s Crisis over God’s Promises
Book Four: The King’s Comfort in God’s Faithfulness
Book Five: The King’s Celebration of God’s Salvation [pp.41-42]

It would be helpful for us to think about and “test” this structure of the Psalms in our own reading and study of this important section of God’s Word. What do you find to be true? And how is this order helpful to you?

Psalter-app-DV-2017On another related matter, I want to make you aware of a new app for the PRC Psalter – the songbook used in the PRC based on the book of Psalms. Jonathan Vermeer, a member of our Hope PRC, has developed this fine tool for use on your Android device (laptop, tablet, smartphone). The app includes lyrics and tunes to all of our Psalter numbers and links to the Psalms themselves (Bible Gateway). Plus, it has a special “night mode” setting for use in the dark (as, for example, for campfire singing).

You will find it in the Google Play store at this link. Check it out – I have it on my phone and love it!

Who Speaks in the Psalms? – R. Godfrey

Learning-love-psalms-Godfrey-2017I am enjoying reading through the brief but packed chapters of W. Robert Godfrey’s new book Learning to Love the Psalms (Reformation Trust, 2017).

In chapter 5 he asks and answers the question, Who are the speakers in the Psalms? In other words, who are the subjects of these powerful, passionate songs and poems?

This is how he answers, in short form:

  1. David the king – the preeminent psalmist, as the “sweet psalmist of Israel”
  2. Israel as the people of God – David not only speaks to them but for them.
  3. Christians – the NT Israel of God, the church.
  4. Jesus the King – in whom Israel’s kingship and this songbook is fulfilled

It is that last point that Godfrey takes pains to demonstrate, from Jesus’ own words and the gospel records, as well as from the NT epistles, especially Hebrews.

Here is how he states it at the beginning of that section:

We should conclude that the Psalms are not only for the king, for Israel, and for the church, but that all the Psalms are also the songs of our great King, Jesus the Christ. David’s kingship and kingdom pointed forward to the coming of Christ and are fulfilled in Him. Jesus Himself declared that the Psalms are about Him: ‘These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled’ (Luke 24:44). Throughout our study, we will see over and over again how Christ fills and fulfills the Psalter [p.23].

A bit further in this chapter, after showing how the NT book of Hebrews teaches the truth of this, the author says,

The example of the book of Hebrews encourages us to see all the Psalms as the words of Jesus, both as He is the divine King and Savior of His people and as He is their human king and representative. Here is the way we must read the Psalms. Jesus’ connection to and love of the Psalter should surely inspire ours.

This approach does not separate the Psalms from their origin in the history of Israel or from the experience of God’s people. Rather, it reminds us that all of Israel’s history pointed to and is fulfilled in Christ and that all of the experiences of God’s people are taken up and sanctified in Christ. Israel’s history is our history as the people of God. As the people of God, we can sing the Psalms and enter into every element of them because we are in Christ [pp.27-28].

What Are the Themes of the Psalter? R. Godfrey

Learning-love-psalms-Godfrey-2017In the fourth chapter of his new book Learning to Love the Psalms (Reformation Trust, 2017), author W. Robert Godfrey addresses the themes of the OT book of Psalms.

In “Recurring Themes in the Psalms” he points out that “a great aid to our study of the Psalms is recognizing the major themes that occur over and over again in the Psalter. Certain basic themes unite the Psalms and underscore essential truths about God and His care for His people” (p.16).

From there he seeks to answer the question, What is the great theme that dominates the Psalter? Here is his answer:

John Calvin in his five-volume commentary on the book of Psalms suggested that the great theme of the Psalter is the providence of God, specifically God’s preservation of His own. Hesitant as I am to try to improve on Calvin, I would expand on his thought by saying that the great theme of the Psalter is God’s goodness and unfailing love for the righteous. God is always good in ways completely compatible with His holiness. And in His goodness, He never fails in His love and care for those who belong to Him [p.16].

And what about the personal, subjective side to this grand theme? What about the response of these righteous ones who are so loved and cared for by the good God? This is what Godfrey adds:

As this truth of God’s goodness and love is celebrated throughout the Psalter, the regular response of God’s people is clear: they praise Him. When we really think about who God is and what He does for us, the only possible reaction is praise. Indeed, the book of Psalms derives its Hebrew name, the Book of Praises, from this principal reaction – praise – to the principal theme – God’s goodness and unfailing love for the righteous [pp.16-17].

Do you agree with the author? Is this the central message you find in the precious book of God’s Word? And if you do, do you and I also response with praise – personal and private, as well as corporate and public?

Today, in the house of our great and glorious, good and loving Father we have the opportunity again to see and hear this theme, and to respond in thankful praise. Shall we do this? Let us. For our God is worthy.