Reading the Bible the Way It’s Written: Psalms
Royal Psalms and Others
|Less Common Types of Psalms|
More of Psalms
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|Psalm 1, Wisdom, or Teaching|
|Psalm 78:1-8, Teaching from History|
|Psalm 133, Wisdom, or Teaching|
|Psalm 50, Prophetic Judgment|
|Psalm 101, Vow |
|Psalm 136, Liturgical Psalm|
|Psalm 25, Acrostic|
|Psalm 9:9-20, An Acrostic Psalm of David|
|Psalm 134, Benediction or Blessing: Bless God! And God bless us all!||
Psalm 20, Royal Psalms (5/15/17)
, some of which are Messianic
, celebrate a human king. Human kings – or whatever political leader our governmental system has – are important figures. The Bible holds them personally responsible not only for governing, and not only for their own sins, but also for the sins of society and the individuals in it. Big job! Naturally, kings are also singled out for particular encouragement and blessing. The first five verses of Psalm 20 speak directly to the king and invoke various blessings from God upon him. The remainder of the song expresses the singer’s confidence that God will bless the human king that he has selected to lead his people on earth.
A Note on Hebrew Poetry (6/8/09)
Psalm 21, Royal Psalms (5/16/17)
Probably you have no trouble recognizing a poem when you see one. In English, poems are usually characterized by rhythm and rhyme. Let's say I start out with these two lines:
Do DOO do DOO do DOO,
In English you expect the next two lines to look like this:
Tah TAT tah TAT tah TAT.
Po POO po POO po POO,
Kah KAT kah KAT kah KAT.
Hebrew poetry is different, so it can be difficult to recognize when it's translated. Hebrew poetry typically is made up of couplets that are (1) parallel, (2) supplementary, or (3) contrasting:
1. Here's a little poem for you,
A couplet for you who are reading.
2. Here's a little poem for you,
And it is twelve words long.
3. Here's a little poem for you,
It is not prose, and it's not for your neighbor across the street.
Once you know what to look for, you can usually see these types of couplets in your English translation of the Bible. Hebrew poetry also is very big on alliteration (pretty pink poems) and word play (Time flies like an arrow, fruit flies like a banana). Hebrew poems, like English, often have the same number of syllables in each line. These latter three characteristics are usually impossible to see in translation. See if you can find the couplets in today's psalm, which is a poem that talks about God's keen interest in human political history.
The idea that God establishes governments and uses them for the welfare of his children (everybody) is found in several places in the Bible; for example, in Romans 13:1-7 Paul talks about the importance of governing authorities in dealing with wrong-doers. Jesus says that it is appropriate to pay taxes to our governments (Mark 12:13-17). This Royal Psalm
celebrates God’s support for a human king. The only catch is that the king must have faith in the Lord (vs. 7).
Psalm 45, Royal Psalms (5/17/17)
This Royal Psalm
celebrates a human king who seems to me to be right out of a fairy tale. He is handsome (vs. 2), valiant in battle (vss. 3-5), honorable (vs. 7), and admired by all the women and married to a beautiful princess (vs. 9-15 ), and he will live happily ever after (vs. 17).
By the way, the Hebrew word elohim
can be used to mean God, gods,
or political ruler
, so in vs. 6 it seems to me to be referring to the king, not to God, whereas in vs. 7 it clearly does mean God
. In fact, the Good News Bible translates it just that way:
The kingdom that God has given you will last forever and ever. You rule over your people with justice; you love what is right and hate what is evil. That is why God, your God, has chosen you and has poured out more happiness on you than on any other king.
However, this is a good time to remind you not to take my word for anything; read your Bible carefully in at least two different translations, and make up your own mind.
Psalm 72, A Royal Psalm (2007)
While you celebrate the Fourth of July, take time to pray that peace and justice will rule every mountain and hill in our nation. Pray that our political leaders will be honest and wise, just like God, while remembering that they are not God. Pray that our police and judiciary will be fair with everyone. Pray that our Church will have pity on the weak and the helpless and protect those in need. Pray that God's glory will be seen everywhere on earth.
Psalm 132, Royal Psalms (5/18/17)
This Royal Psalm
celebrates the Davidic dynasty. All the kings of Judah were descended from David, according to the promise that God had made to David (2 Samuel 7:1-17). Psalm 132:11-12 refers directly to this promise (2 Samuel 7:11-13). Vss. 2-10 recall that David brought the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem, and vss. 13-18 talk about the blessings the God will grant to Jerusalem and David’s descendants. I’m not crazy about the Bible in Basic English’s translation of vs. 17. The Hebrew says “a lamp for my anointed,” that is, not just any old king, but the person chosen by God.
Did we talk before about “a song of going up” or “song of ascents”? These songs are intended to be sung as the singer climbs the hill into Jerusalem. The lyrics of Psalm 132 seem to me to me to be particularly appropriate for a song of ascents.
Psalm 110, a Messianic Royal Psalm, and Luke 24:44-45 (5/19/17)
The Hebrew word meshiach
or “messiah” means “anointed one.” “Christ” also means “anointed one,” and the Greek christos
is routinely used in the Greek translation of the Old Testament for meshiach
is used in two main ways. First, it refers to any ordinary person who has been anointed to fill a particular office, e.g., priest, prophet, or king. Second, it refers to THE Messiah, an important figure in Jewish tradition and the central figure in Christianity.
A Messianic Royal Psalm
is a psalm about God’s Messiah King, and not just an ordinary king. Psalm 110 is more frequently quoted in the New Testament than any other psalm, normally in the context that Jesus is THE Messiah. Consequently, virtually all Christians (and a lot of Messianic Jews, from what I see on the web) consider it to be a Messianic Royal Psalm
, that is, one that talks about God’s Messiah King.
It’s probably worth noting that the word “messiah” doesn’t occur in this psalm. It does occur in Psalms 2, 18, 20, 28, 84, 89, 105, and 132, and at least some of those are considered Messianic by Jews and Christians alike.
Psalm 1, Wisdom, or Teaching (5/18/09)
Wisdom psalms are usually straightforward pieces of instruction. This week's scriptures are about choices: good choices, bad choices, and the results of choices. One of my all-time favorite movie lines is from "Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade." Indy and the bad guy have made it to the repository that contains an ancient knight, the Holy Grail, and about a zillion other cups. The knight says you have to pick out the Holy Grail for yourself. The bad guy picks out a bejeweled gold chalice, dips some water, and drinks. Then he shrivels, withers, moans, dies, turns to dust, and blows away. The old knight says, "He chose ... poorly."
A couple days ago we thought about how young children must be to go to Heaven if they die without being baptized. The book of Jonah implies that children who can't tell their left hand from their right hand are okay, but most scholars, theologians, and denominations take that to be an idiom meaning that the children have not learned to choose between Good and Evil. The age at which children are generally able to choose is generally taken to be about 12 or so. The writer of today's psalm talks about the people who are able to choose and who have chosen. Those who choose Good are happy – they are like a tree with deep roots, and they will stand in the winds of Judgment Day. Those who choose Evil are like chaff, and they will be driven away by those winds.
Psalm 78:1-8, Teaching from History (2007)
Psalm 78 summarizes what God has done for the people of Israel from the time of Moses to the time of David. Verses 1-8 tell why the writer is summarizing the history of Israel: "God ... told our ancestors to teach their children, so that each new generation ... would trust God and obey his teachings, without forgetting anything God had done. They would be different from their ancestors, who were stubborn, rebellious, and unfaithful to God." This is a marvelously succinct explanation of the importance of Bible study.
Psalm 133, Wisdom, or Teaching (4/15/09)
A Song of Ascents was sung by Jews as they walked up Mt. Zion and into Jerusalem. We have all heard the folk songs of men and women walking or working together, with their harmonies and cadences that promote and ease the rhythm of the combined effort. How beautiful these songs are, when each person contributes a piece of the whole!
One of my most precious memories comes from a time when my older son was about 2 and my younger son was just a few months old. The baby was in one of those little recliner/carriers, which was sitting on the floor. The toddler walked by, ignoring the baby, but he tripped. The baby laughed. The toddler studied him for a moment, and then went back and passed by again, tripping on purpose. The baby laughed again. The toddler came by again, tripping more vigorously. They both laughed. This went on for quite a while, with the "trips" resulting in "falls," and the laughter becoming louder and happier at every round. "How good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity!"
Psalm 50, Prophetic Judgment (5/22/17)
A few types of psalm are less common than the ones we’ve already looked at. In Prophetic Judgment
, God summons the world to be judged. Not only sinners (vs. 16) but also saints (vs. 5) – God’s own people (vs. 4) – will be called to judgment. (This is a consistent theme throughout the Bible, by the way.) The scariest part is that God himself will be the witness against us (vss. 7, 21)! We can do nothing in the dark that will not come to light (vs. 2). Then God lists some of the specific sins that he will be judging, which unfortunately includes the general category of “turning our backs on God’s words” (vs. 17). That means that even if my particular sins aren’t enumerated in this psalm, they will be included in the indictment.
The good news is that if we turn to God, he will save us himself (vss. 15, 23).
Psalms 50 and 73 – 83 are all attributed to Asaph. Asaph was one of the chief singers in the tent of worship during the time of David; see, for example, 1 Chronicles 15:19 and 16:4-7.
Psalm 101, Vow (5/23/17)
A week ago I went to a wedding, and the couple took vows. When was the last time you took a vow?
Psalm 101 is a Vow
– a promise to God about what the singer will or will not do. It appears to be intended for a king at his coronation; in vss. 5 and 8 the singer has the power to punish evildoers, and in vs. 6 he can reward those in the nation who are of good faith. Those verses seem applicable primarily to leaders. Other parts of the psalm could apply to any of us. We can try to be righteous, to turn away from evil, and not to associate with evildoers or liars.
Psalm 136, Liturgical Psalm (5/24/17)
At Saint John’s, we do a brief responsive reading as the call to worship just about every Sunday. The worship leader reads one line, and the congregation responds with one line, and then the worship leader reads another line, and so on. Many denominations use responsive readings as a part of their services.
Psalm 136 is a Liturgical Psalm
, probably intended to be used in this way during a worship service. I imagine that the worship leader read the first half of each verse, and the congregation responded, “for his mercy is unchanging forever.” Psalm 136 has been a standard part of the Passover service since ancient times. It praises God for being God (vss. 1-3), for his mighty works in nature (vss. 4-9), for his mighty works in the history of Israel (vss. 10-24), for his mighty works in nature (vs. 25), and for being God (vs. 26). The same explanation is given for each aspect of God’s nature and for each mighty act: God’s unchanging and eternal mercy.
Psalm 25, Acrostic (5/25/17)
are a format, not a topic. Acrostic psalms can be on any topic. In an acrostic psalm or poem, each line or set of lines starts with the same letter of the Hebrew alphabet, and they are usually arranged alphabetically. Here’s a little acrostic psalm that I just wrote:
All nations give praise to the LORD our God,
Because the LORD gives good things to his people.
Come before him with thanksgiving;
Deliver words of praise to our God.
You may see squiggly marks or some other odd symbols at the beginning of each verse of today’s reading. These marks are the Hebrew letters, and they are in alphabetical order. In Hebrew
, the first word of each line actually begins with that letter, as in the little example above. In English translation
, you will just about never see this alphabetical arrangement.
So, in your paper Bible, you may see one of three solutions. First, most translations just ignore the fact that it’s an acrostic and give you the translation, pure and simple. Second, they may give you the Hebrew letter at the beginning of the verse, as does the Jubilee Bible. Third and most helpfully, they may give you the name of the letter at the beginning of the line, so that vs. 1 would have “aleph,” vs. 2 would have “bet,” and so on. Check out Psalms 9, 10, 25, 24, 27, 111, 112, 119, and 145 to see what your Bible has.
Psalm 9:9-20, An Acrostic Psalm of David (6/15/09)
Here's another acrostic psalm that doesn't fit easily into any of the major categories. David was an accomplished harpist and composer; about half of the 150 psalms in the Bible are attributed to him. David had a close relationship with the LORD, and it should be encouraging to the rest of us that he talked or sang to the LORD about whatever was on his mind. Sad, glad, mad, or bad – David took it all to the LORD.
Psalm 119:97-104, Acrostic (2007)
Psalm 119 is an acrostic psalm. Each line of a section begins with the same letter, there are eight lines to a section, and the sections are arranged in alphabetical order. Today we are reading the section of Ps. 119 in which each verse, in Hebrew, begins with the letter MEM, or M. When verse numbers were added, each line was made into its own verse.
Psalm 134, Benediction or Blessing: Bless God! And God bless us all! (5/26/17)
I hope that you have learned a thing or two during our study of the book of Psalms that enhances your enjoyment of these beautiful songs. Psalm 134 is a Benediction
Bless God! God bless you! And God bless us all!
Psalms – Doxologies, Laments, and Songs of Trust
Psalms – Thanksgivings and Hymns
Psalms – Royal Psalms and Others
2009, 2017 by Regina L. Hunter. All rights reserved. This page has been prepared for the web site by RPB.
Opinions expressed on this page are solely those of the
author, Regina Hunter, and may or may not be shared by the sponsors or the
Bible-study participants. Thanks to the
Holy Spirit for any useful ideas presented here, and thanks to all the readers
for their support and enthusiasm. All
errors are, of course, the sole responsibility of the author.
St. John’s United Methodist Church,
2626 Arizona NE, Albuquerque, New Mexico 87110
Traditional worship services are held Sundays at 8:15 and
11:00 a.m. in the sanctuary. Casual worship services are held Sundays at
9:30 a.m. in the Family Life Center.
are held monthly on the second Saturday at 5:00 p.m. in the sanctuary. St. John’s feels especially called to the worship of God and to the service of our neighbors through our music program
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