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Exploring the Psalms
An Introduction

Exploring the Psalms

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Exploring the Psalms
An Introduction 

Read : Psalm 96 

The Psalms - regarded as one book is the second book of Wisdom in the Hebrew Bible. Psalms is sub-divided into five separate books which can be divided thus:

Book 1 - speaking of God our saviour in whom we trust, in whom we have faith. Psalms 1-41

Book 2 - God is king, to be obeyed. Psalms 42-72

Book 3 - God is our guide, in whom we hope and to whom we appeal. Psalms 73-89

Book 4 - God is eternal, to be worshipped and loved. Psalms 40-96

Book 5 - God is awesome and works wonders, to be joyfully praised.

Psalms 107-150

It is thought that the psalms were written over a period of around 1,000 years and yet they are still relevant, fresh and easily identified with today. The book of Psalms is the most quoted book in the New Testament. Of all the scriptures in the Hebrew Bible the psalms are among the easiest for others in different cultures to identify with. Yes, they are about God's chosen people the people of Judah, the Jews, and yes, there is much rather bloody talk of enemies overcome and war - for us, in our western society that might seem to jar, but if we consider the enemies that surround us - perhaps spiritual or temporal rather than people or races with whom we struggle or wage war - there is still most definitely a need for us to pray for deliverance from our enemies, whatever might pull us off course spiritually. The language of the psalms is often poetic and beautiful, like the words of Psalm 96 which we have just heard.

It is emotional and personal. The psalms are written as prayers and hymns to be sung with loud and happy musical accompaniment, or to be chanted while walking (the psalms of ascent were said by pilgrims approaching the Temple in Jerusalem) they are written for personal worship and for corporate worship. They are prayers for help, cries of agony, glorious hymns of praise. They are honest. Anger, faith, doubt, hope, trust, joy, despair - the whole gamut of our human emotions is written in black and white on the pages of the psalms. Many psalms, like Psalm 13 which we have just read, show mixed emotions - a sense of separation from God, grief and anguish at what is happening are confessed - the psalmist tells God how he is feeling, then he asks for help and then right at the end in complete contrast to how he started he pulls himself together and confesses his faith, he still trusts in God, and if that's the case then he will still rejoice and praise God - because looking back he sees that God has been good to him 'dealt bountifully with me'.

Often the psalms seem to begin with a bit of a rant and finish with a reminder to self of God's goodness.

For some reason we do not seem to have any trouble finding words to praise God as we sing our hymns and say our prayers, we also seem to have no trouble confessing our sins, asking for forgiveness, remembering the needs of others before God, remembering our own needs and crying out in our time of need, blessing others. But often I am confronted by people who are angry at God, and this is often the case in my work as a healthcare chaplain. People might be angry with God because they feel that he is not there is a bad situation, or indeed, because they feel powerless and let down and yet for many it is hard to express that feeling to God - and yet, we only need to turn the pages of the Psalms to see that others have got their first, they have said it like it is - it is OK, I tell people, to be honest in your prayers, tell God the truth, he is after all, the God of truth. Read the psalms, I say, and you'll maybe find a little help to express those dark and angry feelings.

Colin Sinclair of Palmerston Place church writes this about the psalms:

The psalms reflect fairly honestly what often motivates us to pray!
Properly used, the psalms can help us to grow in our relationship with God, mature in our life of faith, and become more fully human. Their poetry slows us down and takes us deeper into ourselves. Their spirit of prayer ensures that we do not remain there, but turn to God and deal directly with him. The best way to get into the psalms is to read them to yourself. They call us to raw spirituality and authentic intimacy with God.
(Sinclair, C, the Hitch-Hiker's Guide to the Bible, Monarch, Michigan, 2008)

I might say that in the psalms we find all life, the hard knocks, the moments of joy, anger or frustration at God that the psalmist is not afraid to express, delight and joy that tumbles out in words of deep praise and devotion. The psalms are filled with the colours of human emotion, the darkness of pain and loss, the bright hues of hope, the exuberant tints of joy and praise, the drab and dull colours of despair and anxiety - and these darks and lights, brights and drabs, come together to form something that is real, something which speaks to us about our very selves, but which more importantly speaks to us of God's constant, loving, caring presence with his people, strong and unshakeable throughout the years and throughout all creation. Over a thousand years the five books of the Psalms have been honestly written, they are a gift for us as we seek to express our thoughts and feelings to God and they provide us with a wonderful insight into God's character.

Rev Suzie Stark, 2015


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