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.

Why Are the Psalms Difficult? – R. Godfrey

Learning-love-psalms-Godfrey-2017In the third chapter of his new book Learning to Love the Psalms (Reformation Trust, 2017), author W. Robert Godfrey asks and answers the question, “If the Psalms are so rich, why is it that many of us today do not treasure and appreciate them as the church did in the past?”

The chapter is titled “The Difficulty with the Psalms” and in it Godfrey provides five (5) reasons why he believes the Psalms present difficulties to this generation of believers. His first reason may surprise us:

The first is the diminished use of the King James Version of the Bible. The movement away from the King James Version has meant that the familiar poetic expressions of that version which had been passed down through many generations have largely been forgotten. With no one Bible translation replacing the King James Version, that poetry has not been effectively replaced for many contemporary Christians.

Striking isn’t it? So too is his second reason:

The second is the failure of many Christians in our time to study and use the Psalms. Few Christians sing the Psalms anymore. Even if a songbook contains a few psalms, and even if they are used occasionally, most singers will not notice that they are distinctive or particularly important. If we use the Psalter at all, it is probably in a rather superficial devotional way. Our minds and hearts are not saturated with the Psalms as the hearts and minds of earlier generations of Christians were [p.13].

Good food for thought in this Lord’s Day morning. Today as we spent time in God’s Word and as we enter the Lord’s house of worship and prayer, may we consciously embrace God’s speech to us in the Psalms – in the Word read and preached, in prayer, and in song.

The Attraction of the Psalms – W. R. Godfrey

Learning-love-psalms-Godfrey-2017From the first chapter of his new book Learning to Love the Psalms (Reformation Trust, 2017), W. Robert Godfrey gives us four (4) points about “The Attraction of the Psalms”:

Several features of the Psalms have been especially attractive to me. The first is the beauty of the language and the poetic expression of the great truths of the faith. Consider the simple words, ‘The LORD is my shepherd’ (Ps.23:1. How much comfort they have brought to many, many souls in distress.

…The second attraction is the discovery that the more you dig into the Psalter, the more you discover. Like all great poetry, the Psalms are like a mine with ever new depths to reach and ever more gold to find. They reward abundantly whatever effort we make to know them better.

Third, there are psalms for all occasions. The Psalms … mark all the important spiritual moments and emotions in the lives of the people of God. As John Calvin said, ‘I have been accustomed to call this book, I think not inappropriately, “An Anatomy of all Parts of the Soul:” for there is not an emotion of which any one can be conscious that is not here represented as in a mirror.’ The Psalms teach us how to express our emotions to God in all the circumstances of our lives.

Fourth, the Psalms are full of Christ. They not only explicitly prophesy the coming of Christ…, but the message of the Psalms always pulls the soul to Christ and His great saving work. As was said in the ancient church, ‘Always a psalm in the mouth, always Christ in the heart.’ …The Psalms intensify our fellowship with Christ [pp.3-4].

*Note: This book is available for review in the Standard Bearer if you are interested, as I received a review copy from Ligonier last week.

If you wish to hear some beautiful Psalm music from the Psalter used by the PRC (as well as some other psalmody traditions, such as the Scottish Psalter), visit the YouTube channel of the PR Psalm Choir, directed by Mr. Josh Hoekstra (a sample video is provided below).

And don’t forget that TONIGHT is the second of the Psalm Choir concerts in the Grand Rapids, MI area – at First PRC in GR, beginning at 8:15 p.m.

The Uniqueness of the Psalms – Dr. Robert Godfrey

The book of Psalms remains an important object of study on the part of Christians and the Christian church. Every year new books about and commentaries on the Psalms appear. This year is no exception. No doubt with the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, books will appear relating the two, since the Reformation was also a return to this OT songbook for the church.

Reformation Trust has recently published a new book on the Psalms, Learning to Love the Psalms (March, 2017; 263 pp.). It is written by Dr. W. Robert Godfrey, president of Westminster Seminary (Escondido, CA) and professor of church history there.

The publisher provides this summary of the title:

The Psalms are undeniably beautiful. They are also difficult, and readers often come away convinced that tremendous riches remain just beyond their grasp. In this book, Dr. W. Robert Godfrey invites us to journey with him towards a greater understanding and love for these sacred verses. The timeless elegance of the Psalms, their depth of expression, and testimony to the greatness of God have enchanted and edified God’s people for centuries. Learning to Love the Psalms is intended to help today’s Christians share in that delight.

In connection with this new book, Ligonier posted a brief video with Godfrey describing the richness of the Psalms (dated April 11, 2017). You may watch it here:

This book has been added to the PRC Seminary’s collection of books on the Psalms. It may be a title you wish to add to your personal or family library as well.

Source: The Uniqueness of the Psalms

Out of the Depths I Cry to Thee – Martin Luther

quote-i-have-no-use-for-cranks-who-despise-music-because-it-is-a-gift-of-god-music-drives-martin-luther-95-6-0681Martin Luther brought reformation to the church not only through his translation of the Bible into German and by his preaching of the gospel, but also by his composition of music for the people of God to sing. He is the author of numerous hymns, some of which are based directly on the Psalms.

One such is this one written on the basis of Psalm 130, for which he wrote both the lyrics and the melody (1523-24). The website from which this is taken includes this interesting background to the hymn.

[This] is a ver­sion of Psalm cxxx, which Lu­ther called a Paul­ine Psalm, and great­ly loved. He took spe­cial pains with his ver­sion. It was sung on May 9, 1525, at the fun­er­al of Fried­rich the Wise, in the Court Church at Wit­ten­berg. The people of Halle sang it with tears in their eyes as the great Re­form­er’s cof­fin passed through their ci­ty on the way to the grave at Wit­ten­berg. It is wov­en into the re­li­gious life of Ger­ma­ny.

In 1530, dur­ing the Di­et of Aug­sburg, Lu­ther’s heart was oft­en sore trou­bled, but he would say, ‘Come, let us de­fy the de­vil and praise God by sing­ing a hymn.’ Then he would be­gin, ‘Out of the depths I cry to Thee.’ It was sung at his fun­er­al.

Below is the hymn itself. At the link below you will find the tune to play with it.

Out of the Depths I Cry to Thee

Out of the depths I cry to Thee;
Lord, hear me, I implore Thee!
Bend down Thy gracious ear to me;
I lay my sins before Thee.
If Thou rememberest each misdeed,
If each should have its rightful meed,
Who may abide Thy presence?

Thou grantest pardon through Thy love;
Thy grace alone availeth;
Our works could ne’er our guilt remove;
Yea, e’en the best life faileth.
For none may boast himself of aught,
But must confess Thy grace hath wrought
Whate’er in him is worthy.

And thus my hope is in the Lord,
And not in my own merit;
I rest upon His faithful Word
To them of contrite spirit.
That He is merciful and just,
Here is my comfort and my trust;
His help I wait with patience.

Source: Out of the Depths I Cry to Thee