Remixing the Psalms
- Thursday, January 26, 2012
This final arrangement of the 150 psalms incorporates and restructures several earlier “collections,” as evident from some of the superscriptions at the beginning of the psalms.
The Psalms as a Christian Hymnbook and as Christian Scripture
The Psalms are not merely ancient liturgies and literature for the curious. Our exploration of the Psalms began with a question of what a psalm is. The answer was found in how psalms functioned in the worship of ancient Israel. But how should the psalms function in the Christian Church?
As Scripture, the Psalms disclose God. This is ironic because, unlike Mosaic Torah and the Prophets, the Psalms are primarily human words addressed to God. Yet as prayers and praises to God hammered out over generations of experience, they reflect what Israel found to be appropriate and effective speech to God. They are not a “lens” focused on God, as the Prophets represent, rather they are a “mirror” reflecting the character of God.
Time and again the psalms refer to “the face of God” (24:6; 27:4, 8; 105:4) and petition Him to “incline your ear” (17:6; 102:2) and to “see my affliction” (9:13; compare 33:18). These claims are remarkable—especially considering they could have been misconstrued in the cultural context of ancient Israel. Among Israel’s neighbors “the face of God” was understood to have its literal counterpart in the face of a divine statue or idol. So the biblical Psalms, at the risk of people misinterpreting “God’s face” and thus violating the Bible’s repeated prohibition against images, use this metaphor to portray God as a living, interacting person.
The Psalms also urge us to engage our beliefs in worship. They are not only Christian Scripture; they are also a Christian hymnbook. The Apostle Paul commands believers to “address one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs” (Eph 5:19; Col 3:16). The Psalms should not only inform our beliefs about God, ourselves, and the world; they should also shape our worship. The lament psalms invite us into a world where we may “pour out our heart before him” (compare Psa 62:8)—authentically disclosing our heart (e.g., compare Psa 22:1 and 22:24). And the liturgies of temple entry and the hymns invite us into the palace to have an audience with the cosmic King (Pss 24; 95).
As the prophet Hosea enjoins the people of Israel, “Take with you words and return to the Lord” (Hos 14:2), so the Book of Psalms provides such words for God’s people to beseech and worship Him.
The “Davidic” Psalms
Pss 3–41 (except Psa 33); 51–65; 68–71; 86; 101; 103; 108–110; 138–145
Distinct from the two Levitical collections, those with the superscripts “of the sons of Korah” and “of Asaph.”
The Psalms of “the sons of Korah”
Pss 42–49; 84–85; 87–88
The Psalms of “Asaph”
Pss 50; 73; 83
“Psalms of Ascent”
Probably a prayer book for pilgrims to the postexilic temple.
The “Elohistic Psalter”
Pss 42–83 (compare, Pss 14 and 53).
The generic name “Elohim” or “God” is preferred in these psalms over the personal name “Yahweh,” which most English translations render as “the Lord.” This collection overlaps several others.
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