Psalm 1 (Day 479) April 24 2011
The Book of Psalms represents a distinctly different kind of literature from what we have seen thus far in the Bible. Each psalm stands on its own. There is no continuity from one to the next. Each day brings a new and fresh look at life and at God and at history and at creation.
There are 150 psalms. Contemporary practice is to acknowledge that they are arranged in 5 collections, called books. In some English versions, then, you will see the heading “Book 1 (Psalms 1-41)” just before Psalm 1. Each of the five collections ends with a “doxology” (“word of praise”) that blesses God, ascribes eternity to God, and ends with the “Amen.”
The book of Psalms is the prayer book ofIsraeland the hymn book ofIsrael, but it is so much more. It is a spiritual journal. It is a faith perspective into the human condition. It is a book of instructions for the quest of holiness. It is a window that looks into the soul, and out onto the ways of God.
1-3: There are two words in the book of Psalms that are often translated “blessed.” The first is “esher,” from the Hebrew root word “ashar.” The second is from the root word “barak.” “Esher,” the first word in Psalm 1, communicates uprightness or straightness. “Barak,” which occurs in the last verse of Psalm 41, has the connotation of kneeling or prostrating oneself. Many modern translations therefore choose to render “esher” as “happy” rather than “blessed.” I personally regret the choice. “Happy” is a state that depends upon happenstance, and that is not true to the meaning of the opening line of Psalm 1. Rather, the person being described here possesses a quality that has nothing to do with what is going on in his or her life at the present moment. It is a quality that is grown through a lifetime of persistently acknowledging and submitting to the rule of God.
How do we attain such a blessed state? First, we do so by turning away from the advice of the wicked, from the path of the sinner and from the posture of scoffers. I think by “scoffers” is meant those who treat spiritual practices and faith in God with disdain and ridicule. Second, we do so by being deliberate in practicing the things of God. Through this dual approach of self-denial and self-giving we receive constant nourishment and are productive in the things God gives us to do.
4-6: The Psalm ends with a warning: those who turn away from the things of God will be left out of the community that God claims as his own. The sentiment is not quite as naïve as that expressed by Job’s friends, that wicked people are sure to perish. Here it is the way of the wicked that will ultimately fail, and I think that is a wiser assessment of the way God manages the world.
Psalm 2 (Day 480) April 25 2011
1-3: We learned in the historical books of Kings and Chronicles that there were times inIsrael’s history whenIsrael’s king (God’s anointed) exercised rule over adjoining nations –Edom,Moab,Damascus, and so forth. And there were times when those nations rebelled againstIsrael’s dominion. This psalm imagines such an occasion.
4-6: The point of view fromJerusalemis that God has made these other nations the servants of God’s anointed one who rules onZion, “my holy hill.” Their talk of rebellion is treated with contempt. God laughs at such plans, says the psalm, and those who rebel will be terrified at God’s wrath.
7-9: The king (traditionally this psalm is thought of as one of David’s, although it is not labeled as such) is speaking in these verses. His anointing is seen as an adoption: he is God’s son. The day of his crowning was his “birthday.” He thus rules at God’s pleasure and with God’s authorization to expand the territory and to punish rebellious people.
10-11: Therefore, let those who contemplate an uprising be fairly warned. You would be best advised to “serve the LORD” (and by proxy, the king), or else you will suffer unpleasant consequences. Accept the LORD’s (that is, the king’s) benevolent rule and you will be happy. Well, at least you will be alive.
Psalm 3 (Day 481) April 26 2011
Superscription: Nearly half of the psalms are ascribed to David, and almost all of them in Book I. In most cases it is impossible to tell what the precise connection is – whether David wrote it, or it was written for him or about him, or later editors saw in the psalm some reference to a specific event in David’s life. Psalm 3 is assigned as a “Psalm of David,” and tells us that the psalm is related to the time in David’s later reign when he fled from Jerusalem following a coup by his son Absalom (see 2 Samuel 15).
1-2: The setting is immediately recognizable as one in which powerful foes are being confronted, and indeed David’s problems with Absalom are an appropriate backdrop. Specifically, though, his enemies are challenging God’s support for him, and in this the psalm’s application is more universal than individual. All of us can relate to such a sentiment. We meet here for the first time the little word “Selah,” which is not translated and is untranslatable. The best guess is that it is an instruction of some sort for the leader of worship in which the psalm is being used. Perhaps it signals a pause, or a musical interlude of some kind.
3-4: David (or any of us for that matter) depends on God’s help and protection. He “cries to the LORD,” meaning that he has taken his complaint to the temple onMt.Zion, God’s “holy hill.” He has made an official plea to God for help.
5-6: Having placed his fate in God’s hands, he is able to sleep at night and cast off his fears during the day. What a great lesson we have here!
7-8: He petitions God for his protection and support, and ends with a statement of faith that God will bring deliverance.
Psalm 4 (Day 482) April 27 2011
Superscription: The “leader” is most likely a reference to the priest in charge of the chorus or the band of instrumentalists. This is another “psalm of David,” and clearly is intended to be used in worship with musical accompaniment.
1: The psalm is another plea for divine intervention, based on the author’s prior experiences of being sustained by God in times of distress.
2-3: His honor is being attacked. He responds by insisting that he is in the right and that God will hear his plea for help.
4-5: Some good advice when you are beset upon: Don’t respond in kind. Keep your peace and trust God.
6-7: Do you wish for things to be better? Well, then, remember how God has been good in the past.
8: Then you can stop worrying. Again we read that trust in God allows one to sleep in peace. That’s why bedtime prayers are a good thing.
Psalm 5 (Day 483) April 28 2011
Superscription: This is the 3rd psalm to be ascribed to David. The instructions indicate that it is to be accompanied by wind instruments, or flutes, whereas Psalm 4 was to be accompanied by stringed instruments. To me this is an indication that the psalm is intended to be used by the community in worship together.
1-3: The psalm is cast as a morning prayer. We begin the day kneeling beside the bed and placing our petition before God. Then we go about our business, watching to see how God responds.
4-6: We are assured that God will not lead us astray because God does not “delight in wickedness,” and therefore God will not allow evil to overcome good.
7-8: Because God’s love for us is steadfast we will never be turned away from God’s house. And because there are those who would do us harm, we ask for God to guide us in the right path.
9-10: Let those who are deceitful and destructive suffer the consequences of their own actions.
11-12: But let those who trust in God live in the joy of knowing that they live under God’s protection.
Psalm 6 (Day 484) April 29 2011
Superscription: The 4th “psalm of David.” The word “Sheminith” first occurs at 1 Chronicles 15:21 where we are told that some priests were to lead the chorus with harps according to “Alamoth,” while others were to lead the singing with lyres according to “Sheminith.” Alamoth is thought to refer to soprano voices; Sheminith may refer to lower male voices. It is related to the word that means “eighth,” and many scholars think it refers to a musical tone or perhaps to an eight-stringed lyre. In Christian tradition the psalm has been included in the 7 “penitential” psalms, along with 32, 38, 51, 102, 130, and 143.
1-3: The author is suffering from a serious illness and prays that God will bring healing. It is a common sentiment that illnesses are sent by God as disciplinary measures.
4-5: He is anxious for his life, and asks God to rescue him for God’s sake. He maintains that it will be to God’s advantage to let him live because if he dies he won’t be able to praise God any longer or even remember God. This is an audacious sentiment; it implies that he is a person of some importance in the religious community; perhaps a priest, even the high priest. Or perhaps we have the plea of a king here, since the king in ancientIsrael was also a key religious figure.
6-7: He describes the suffering his illness causes. The reference to “all my foes” seems out of place here, and indeed constitutes a change in the direction of the psalm. Of course, if the psalmist is David or another royal official, his illness might be seen by some ambitious courtiers as an opportunity for their own advancement.
8-10: Now he addresses those imagined (or real!) enemies, telling them to go away. He avers that God has heard his prayers and therefore he will recover and their ambition will quickly turn to fear. The situation may be foreign to us, but would that we could be as confident about the outcome of our prayers!
Psalm 7 (Day 485) April 30 2011
Superscription: “Shiggaion” is from the verb shagah (“to reel about through strong drink”) and scholars believe it refers to a song of strong emotion and impassioned imagination accompanied with suitable music. The word occurs only here and at Habakkuk 3:1. This is the 5th of the 72 Psalms ascribed to David. The reference to “Cush, a Benjaminite” is unexplained; no such person appears in the accounts of the reign of David.
1-2: The petition: the psalmist is being pursued by enemies and he is asking God to protect him.
3-5: He claims that he is innocent by saying that if he is guilty of having caused any harm then by all means let him be punished. In other words, he doesn’t think he is guilty.
6-8: It would seem from these verses that a trial is about to take place, so the situation is one in which the psalmist believes that he is falsely accused of some crime. His prayer is that God will sit in as judge above the courtroom and guide the proceedings in such a way that his innocence will be maintained.
9-11: It is a common belief expressed in the psalms – and elsewhere in the Bible – that God will thwart the plans of the wicked and uphold and defend the “upright in heart.”
12-16: God’s defense is pictured in military terms. The psalmist’s wish is that evildoers (his enemies) will themselves suffer the consequences of their evil.
17: The psalm ends with a promise of praise and thanksgiving.
Psalm 8 (Day 486) May 1 2011
Superscription: Another “Psalm of David” (the 6th). The leader is instructed to lead the psalm “according to the Gittith.” Our best guess is that this is a musical instrument, perhaps related to the city ofGath from which the word is derived. Speculation by older commentaries is that the Gittith is a sort of lyre that David acquired fromGath during one of his visits there. The people ofGath were called Gittites (see 2 Samuel 15:18). Gittith is also a form of the word for “wine press,” and some think the psalm is a joyous song sung during the season in which the grapes were harvested and wine was made.
Psalm 8 is unique in several ways. It is the only psalm that addresses God solely in the second person. It is the first psalm of praise contained in the book of psalms. In addition, this psalm has the honor of being the first passage from the Bible to be carried to the moon, on Apollo 11, as part of the message from theVatican(one of 73 nations that took part in a project to place a message on a silicon disk left on the moon’s surface).
1a: The opening line is repeated in the last line of the psalm. Older translations have “O LORD our Lord,” but the first “LORD” is the name of God and the second “Lord” is a generic term used for any ruler or sovereign. So, the opening line of Psalm 8 fulfills the promise made in the last line of Psalm 7 – “to sing praise to the LORD, the Most High.”
1b-2: “Your glory” may be a reference to the sun, since fire and light are often used as metaphors for God’s presence. The reference to babes and infants is difficult to interpret. Perhaps the idea is that human beings are so important in God’s creation that even babies have the power to thwart God’s enemies, perhaps by the simple innocence of their speech.
3-4: The night sky is so awesome that it makes us feel small and we wonder why God would bother with us.
5-8: Yet, God has given us dominion over all the earth (see Genesis 1: 28).
9: Repeats the opening line.
Psalm 9 (Day 487) May 2 2011
Superscription: The 7th “Psalm of David.” “Muth-labben” is a curious term which seems to refer to the death of someone, perhaps “death of the son,” or “death of the fool.” The latter seems more likely given the content of the psalm. Another possibility is that the term is an instruction about the way the psalm is to be sung or who is to sing it or what instruments are to accompany it. The problem is complicated by the fact that the term appears nowhere else in the Bible.
1-2: The psalm begins with exuberant praise, hinting that some momentous and happy event has taken place.
3-4: It is often difficult to discern what is meant by “enemies” in the psalms. In any case, whether the reference here is to an actual battle or another kind of dispute, the psalmist has been delivered from some difficulty brought about by those who wish to do him harm.
5-6: Here, however, it seems that the difficulty has had to do with a clash of nations, and the psalmist is rejoicing that the enemy has been utterly defeated.
7-10: God is pictured as the righteous judge who protects the innocent and grants favor to those who bring their petitions to him.
11-12: God is acclaimed and praised as the victorious avenger of the oppressed.
13-14: Now the psalm turns to a personal plea for help; in return the psalmist will publicly acknowledge God as the deliverer.
15-17: In the mind of the psalmist justice consists in part of the wicked being caught in their own trap. This is a common view that we will find expressed often in the Psalms. The words “higgaion” and “selah” at the end of verse 16 are thought to be directions for the use of the psalm in worship – perhaps a pause or a musical interlude of some sort.
18-20: God is the champion of the poor and needy. This is an important element inIsrael’s faith, hearkening back to their rescue from slavery inEgypt. The psalm ends with a striking phrase that occurs nowhere else in the Bible: “they are only human.” The psalmist is denying the existence of the gods of the pagan nations with whichIsraeloften quarreled.
Psalm 10 (Day 488) May 3 2011
1-4: Sometimes God seems to be remote or aloof. The psalmist sees the poor being taken advantage of, prays for relief and gets no answer. Instead the wicked are smug in their security. God’s absence reinforces their arrogant belief that God doesn’t exist. (Wickedness is always evidence of atheism.)
5-11: He goes into a long description of how the wicked prey on the poor, and imagines their conceit in thinking they are immune to God’s reproof.
12-13: Why does God let such a situation continue? The psalmist pleads with God to intervene.
14-18: In spite of all that has happened, the psalm ends on a positive note. God does see. God will punish the wicked. God will hear the cry of the oppressed and act on their behalf.
Psalm 11 (Day 489) May 4 2011
Superscription: This is the 8th psalm ascribed to David.
1-3: The setting is again an imagined situation in which enemies are threatening. The immediate reaction is to flee to the mountains – we are reminded of many of the stories of David fleeing from Saul or even from his own son Absalom. The fear is that the damage is already so great (“the foundations are destroyed”) that no defense can succeed.
4-7: When we are frightened the immediate impulse is to fight, flee, or freeze – that is the pure animal survival instinct with which we are programmed for our own protection. There are other ways to respond, however, and this psalm is a good illustration. There is always a good chance that the perceived threat is not as terrible as it first appears. The psalmist takes a deep breath and sees that there is in fact another power at work against which the present foes cannot stand. Flee to the mountains? Wait a minute! The LORD is in charge here! God knows what is happening, and God is not going to allow the wicked to have their way. So I will not flee, but I will trust that God will reveal the resources that can defend me.
Psalm 12 (Day 490) May 5 2011
Superscription: The 9th psalm ascribed to David. For “Sheminith” see the note at Psalm 6.
1-8: Verses 1, 2 and 8 could have been written at the beginning of the 21st century inAmerica. There is so much wickedness in the world, and faith in God is a rare thing to find in the marketplace these days. We might utter the same prayer found in verses 3 and 4. Oh that we might cling to the faith expressed in verses 5-7: the faith that God will not allow the poor and needy to be ill treated forever; the faith that God’s promises are dependable; and the faith that God will be our sure protection.
Psalm 13 (Day 491) May 6 2011
Superscription: The 10th of the “Psalms of David.”
1-6: This is a beautiful little psalm that expresses the anguish of unanswered prayer and the assurance of faith. All of us have experienced times of spiritual dryness when it seems that our prayers fall unheard to the ground. The premise is that the psalmist has been praying but has gotten no relief from his troubles. We’ve all been there. Still, he is not worried that God will never hear him. Rather, he is wondering how much longer his going to have to suffer. The middle two verses resume his prayers for deliverance. He tries to convince God of the worthiness of his request by saying that his enemies will think they’ve won if God doesn’t act. This is a common theme in the Psalms, and reflects a common concern of kings and others in positions of power. The last two verses can be read in two ways: either we must imagine that some time has passed and the situation has been resolved to the psalmist’s satisfaction; or we must read it as a statement of faith that God’s help is a foregone conclusion.
Psalm 14 (Day 492) May 7 2011
Superscription: The 11th of the psalms of David.
1-4: Once again we are confronted with the proposition that evildoers are atheists. The reasoning is that if one believes in God, one is unlikely to engage in wickedness since the wrath of God is to be feared. The psalmist declares that all evildoers are unbelievers. Would it also be the case that all unbelievers are evildoers? The psalmist would probably agree to that as well, although altruism is a generally accepted virtue in our culture whether connected with religious beliefs or not. In verse 3, where the psalmist declares, “there is no one who does good,” he is referring to the class of unbelievers, not to the entire human race.
5-6: Judgment is passed on the wicked. The wicked are the bane of the poor, and God is the defender of the poor.
7: Suddenly the psalm is turned into a plea for national deliverance. This makes it seem that the godlessness addressed in the first 6 verses is meant as a description of the enemies ofIsrael, not of individual sinners.
Psalm 15 (Day 493) May 8 2011
Superscription: The 12th “Psalm of David.”
1: There are two ways to understand this psalm. 1) It is usually understood to be a list of qualifications for anyone who would come to worship God onMt.Zion(God’s “holy hill”) and by extension anyone who would worship with God’s people anywhere. 2) But it also may be understood as a list of qualifications for the king who rules fromJerusalem.
2-5b: The list of qualifications is given. Except for the first line about walking blamelessly and doing what is right and verse 4b which has to do with keeping one’s integrity, all the qualifications have to do with ways in which the worshiper (or the king) relates to others.
5c: “…shall never be moved.” This sentiment would readily apply to the king. I’m not sure what its meaning would be for us common folks.
Psalm 16 (Day 494) May 9 2011
Superscription: Six of the Psalms are called “Miktams.” All six of them are “psalms of David.” We don’t know what “Miktam” means.
1-2: The nature of the psalm appears at first to be a prayer for protection, and an acknowledgement that only God can provide what is good.
3-4: The psalmist casts his lot with those who worship the LORD, and refuses to associate with those who worship other gods.
5-11: The remainder of the psalm is an act of praise and acclaim for all that God does: provides a solid faith tradition (“a goodly heritage”); provides counsel, protection and security; reveals the right path; and grants enjoyment of life.
Psalm 17 (Day 495) May 10 2011
Superscription: This is the 14th psalm ascribed to David. Although many, perhaps most, of the psalms can be thought of as prayers only the 17th, the 86th, the 90th and the 142nd are labeled as such. The 90th is a “prayer of Moses;” the others are ascribed to David.
1-2: This is a prayer for God to take the psalmist’s side in some unspecified dispute.
3-5: God should hear the prayer because the petitioner has done his best to live a blameless life and therefore deserves to be heard.
6-8: God’s protection is beautifully described: “Guard me as the apple of your eye; hide me in the shadow of your wings.”
9-12: The enemies are described. They are wicked, deadly, pitiless, and arrogant. They are bent on doing injury. They are like hungry lions stalking their prey.
13-14: Not only does the psalmist want God to confront them and defeat their plot, he wants their children to suffer the consequences as well. This sentiment makes more sense if we take the psalm to be a royal one in which the king or other royal official is under a threat that comes not just from individuals but from clans or families with whom there has been a history of dispute.
15: The psalm concludes with the psalmist’s promise of fidelity.
Psalm 18 (Day 496) May 11 2011
Superscription: So far the psalms have been from 5 to 20 verses in length and the superscriptions have been brief. This psalm has 50 verses and the superscription is appropriately long as well. This is the 15th of the psalms ascribed to David. The occasion is said to be one on which David was delivered from “all his enemies, and from the hand of Saul.” Several stories from 2 Samuel come to mind.
1-3: The opening lines ascribe praise to God who is rock, fortress, deliverer, shield, horn, and stronghold – all of which have military connotations.
4-5: The dilemma is described in action verbs that communicate mortal danger – encompassed, assailed, entangled, and confronted.
6: He cries to God for help and God hears. The mention of the temple is pretty strong evidence that this psalm was composed after the time of David.
7-15: God is pictured in volcanic and meteorological imagery of smoke and fire and wind and hail and thunder and lightning. God’s actions are described in terms of almost cosmic upheaval that lays bare the very foundations of the earth.
16-19: And that’s how I was rescued!
20-24: One of the things that we modern Westerners sometimes find troubling about the psalms is their penchant for chest thumping and tooting one’s own horn, but the exaggeration of one’s innocence and goodness is a common feature of oriental literature. They figured that if God was blessing you, you must deserve it. We figure the same way; it’s just that in our culture it’s not cool to say it out loud.
25-30: God’s retributive justice is described: what you give is what you get, by and large. Verses 29-30 return to the use of military imagery.
31-42: These verses are an account of a battle betweenIsraeland an unnamed enemy. ThatIsraelis one of the combatants is obvious from verse 31: “Who is God except the LORD?” That is to say, the God who granted us victory is none other than YHWH, the revealed name of the LORD, the God who has claimedIsrael. The enemy is defeated; they, too, cry out to the LORD (verse 41) but to no avail.
43-48: These verses do indeed fit with the reign of David who actually extended the boundaries of his realm and became the head of other nations; but it also fits later kings ofIsraelandJudahwho from time to time were successful in extending their reign over adjacent territories.
49-50: The psalm ends with praise to God for protecting and guaranteeing the dynasty of David (the kings ofJudah).
Psalm 19 (Day 497) May 12 2011
Superscription: The 16th psalm ascribed to David.
1-4b: The psalmist looks up at the sky on a cloudless night and sees displayed there the glory of God. The firmament is pictured as a canvass on which God’s work in creation is displayed. The stars and planets are voiceless and yet they shout out praise to God who made them.
4c-6: The sun, the preeminent jewel of the sky, is described in poetic personification.
7-13: Now the psalm launches into praise for the law of the LORD, which is clearly understood here as part and parcel of God’s good creation. A variety of words are used to describe God’s will for humankind: law, decrees, precepts, commandment, fear, and ordinances. The benefits of keeping God’s laws are also enumerated. Primarily, though, the Law serves as a warning to keep one from sinning.
14: This is the verse I use as a prayer before every sermon; but it should be a prayer for all our words and all our meditations.
Psalm 20 (Day 498) May 13 2011
Superscription: The 17th “Psalm of David.”
1-5: One way of understanding this little psalm is to imagine it as a litany being performed before battle to seek God’s help in defeating the enemy. We are standing in the courtyard of the temple. These verses are spoken by the high priest, a prayer for God to grant victory to the king.
6-8: The king responds with an acknowledgement that God will indeed grant success in spite of the enemy’s superior number of horses and chariots.
9: All the priests sing out in chorus, echoing the initial prayer for victory.
Psalm 21 (Day 499) May 14 2011
Superscription: The 18th “Psalm of David.”
1-13: Psalm 20 was a prayer for victory; Psalm 21 is a prayer of thanksgiving that victory has been gained. Psalm 20 asked, “May he grant you your heart’s desire” (20:4). Here it is affirmed that “you have given him his heart’s desire” (verse 2). The king rules at God’s pleasure (verse 3) and succeeds only through God’s help (verse 5). The king therefore must place his trust in God (verse 7) and not in chariots and horses.
Psalm 22 (Day 500) May 15 2011
Superscription: “The Deer of the Dawn” is thought to be a musical tone or series of tones to accompany the recitation of this psalm, the 19th ascribed to David.
1-2: The opening words are familiar to every Christian, for they are the words that Jesus cried out from the cross. All of us can relate to the feelings expressed here. Sometimes it seems that God just doesn’t hear our prayers.
3-5: On the other hand, examples abound of God delivering the faithful, and the psalmist takes some consolation in that thought.
6-8: The psalm goes back and forth between despair and hope. Yes, God has delivered our ancestors, but not him! He’s just a worm, and people are making fun of him because he is relying on God.
9-11: On the other hand, God gave him birth and watched over him throughout his childhood.
12-17: On the other hand, he is surrounded by enemies, circling like stalking lions and closing in like rabid dogs. In these verses we also get a picture of a ravaging illness that has left the psalmist weak and defenseless. He has wasted away to skin and bones, has no appetite, and is dehydrated.
18: His enemies (and perhaps even family members) are already making plans to divide his clothes after he dies. Assuming this is a prayer of a king, the royal wardrobe would be an important part of the inheritance left behind. The followers of Jesus saw in this verse a prophecy of Christ’s suffering (see John 19:24).
19-21a: His prayer is renewed that God will step in and rescue him.
21b-26: Suddenly, in the middle of the verse, rescue has come! Now the entire tenor of the psalm changes from despair to celebration. God’s saving acts will be told for generations to come.
27-31: God’s actions will be told abroad and as a result people will turn to the LORD. A great revival is envisioned, with the psalmist’s story serving as the evangelical catalyst for the conversion of the nations.
It’s a simple lesson: tell the story of what God has done for you and others will be drawn to faith in God.
Psalm 23 (Day 501) May 16 2011
Superscription: This is the 20th of the psalms to be ascribed to David.
1-2: This is the best-known passage in the Old Testament. The “shepherd’s psalm” has provided the faithful with beautiful images of God’s loving care for nearly 3 millennia. The imagery in the first 4 verses has the psalmist looking at his relationship with God as though it were the relationship of a sheep depending on the shepherd. The shepherd leads the sheep into green pastures and still waters and down all the right paths.
3-4: When danger threatens the shepherd provides protection.
5: This verse is probably responsible for the belief that the psalm is one of David’s, for it speaks of events in David’s life. The table prepared in the presence of enemies fits a number of occasions, from his service in Saul’s household to his sojourn among the Philistines of Gath. The anointing is of course a reference to his elevation to the royal throne.
6: Given all the ways in which God has blessed us and watched over us, we can be assured that the future is assured.
Psalm 24 (Day 502) May 17 2011
Superscription: The 21st psalm ascribed to David.
1-2: The whole earth belongs to God, the psalmist declares, including its inhabitants. Ancient people looked at the earth through eyes unaided by scientific instruments and saw that the land rested on the oceans. That, to them, was the nature of the earth. As for its inhabitant, they knew that civilizations could only survive when established on the rivers because that was the surest source of fresh water.
3-6: Given that it all belongs to God (and specifically the LORD, the God of Israel) who is worthy to approach God’s dwelling place on earth? The answer echoes the sentiments we found in Psalm 1. Clean hands and pure hearts are necessary, and the key to that lies in being honest and true. Indeed, in verse 6 the psalmist affirms that only those with clean hands and pure hearts seek the LORD.
7-10: Verses 7-8 are repeated in verses 9-10. It is a call to the gates of the temple to open wide to receive the “King of glory,” the LORD, the creator and proprietor of the earth. Although David did not build the temple, he did make preparations for it, including the organization of the priests and Levites. He is therefore a popular candidate for the authorship of many of the psalms that have to do with the worship life ofIsrael.
Psalm 25 (Day 503) May 18 2011
Superscription: The 22nd Psalm “of David.”
1-3: A common theme of the Davidic psalms: a hymn of trust in God during times of facing opposition. The “enemy” of which the psalmist is concerned cannot be identified, although a hint is given that the enemy is not a worshiper of the LORD. In our use of the psalm in worship or in prayer the enemy may be thought of as a person or even a situation.
4-5: The psalmist prays for God’s will to be revealed, confident that God wills the salvation of those who wait on God.
6-7: The psalmist prays that God’s mercy will outweigh God’s wrath; that God will judge according to his steadfast love and not according to the letter of the Law.
8-10: These verses seem to indicate that the psalmist is not entirely sure of his track record, but is sure that God is willing to give instruction to sinners who wish to amend their ways.
11-12: That God should forgive him for God’s name’s sake is an indication that the psalmist is a person of high standing in the faith community. When one who is entrusted with the spiritual well-being of the people falls, the public often sees that as an indictment of that leader’s faith and by extension an indictment of his or her God.
13-15: The psalmist is penitent, certain of God’s favorable response, and certain of God’s continued favor in the future, even to the next generation.
16-18: Again we see the combined prayer that God will take care of him and forgive him – not too different from the petitions in the Lord’s Prayer.
19-21: The last verses repeat the themes developed in the first part of the psalm – danger from enemies, the fear of being shamed, trust in God and patient waiting for God to act.
20: The prayer is extended from the individual to the nation.
Psalm 26 (Day 504) May 19 2011
Superscription: The 23rd psalm attributed to David.
1-12: This psalm expresses the sort of sentiment that in our modern western culture would be considered a bit egotistical. The psalmist lists all of his good qualities as if trying to demonstrate that he is worthy of God’s approval. In the ancient oriental culture ofIsrael, though, it is a common tact. Although we might feel uncomfortable telling God all our good qualities, it might be a good exercise to take stock of our character before we simply assume God is going to shower us with protection and blessings.
Psalm 27 (Day 505) May 20 2011
Superscription: The 24th Davidic psalm.
1-3: This is rather typical of hymns expressing confidence in God’s favor. Compare, for example, Psalms 18 and 118. No matter what might happen, even an enemy invasion, the psalmist is certain that God’s protection will prevail.
4-6: The great temple inJerusalemis referred to in five ways here: it is God’s house, temple, shelter, tent and rock. Each term brings forth rich images of the way in which believers experienced God’s help through the generations.
7-10: When the psalms speak of seeking God’s face, it is an expression that means seeking God’s attention.
11-14: Threatened by false witnesses – possibly a reference to legal problems – the psalmist counsels himself to exercise patience, to wait on the LORD.
Psalm 28 (Day 506) May 21 2011
Superscription: the 25th of the Davidic psalms.
1-5: The first half of this little psalm is a prayer to God for help against enemies who are seeking to do harm to the author of it. It is not a hollow request, for the psalmist genuinely believes his accusers are godless people who are out to get him without fault on his part.
6-9: The second half of the psalm is praise and thanksgiving for being delivered. The trial is over and the outcome was favorable, and the psalmist credits God for upholding justice.
Psalm 29 (Day 507) May 22 2011
Superscription: David’s 26th.
1-2: The psalm opens with a call for the “heavenly beings” to worship God for his glory and strength. The “heavenly beings” are angels and other divinities believed to inhabit God’s realm.
3-4: These verses are a poetic description of a great storm blowing in off theMediterranean Seaand moving inexorably inland across the wilderness. In verse 3 we see the storm building up strength with rumbles of thunder growing in intensity (“the voice of the LORD”).
5-6: The storm moves onto land and has become powerful enough to uproot trees.Mt.Lebanonis in the northern part of the modern day country ofLebanon. Sirion is likely a reference toMt.Hermon, a prominent 9200’ peak to the north ofGalilee.
7: “Flames of fire” is a description of lightning shooting out in the storm’s advance.
8: So powerful is the storm that the ground seems to shake in its path. The “wilderness of Kadesh” is generally taken to be a reference to the desert in the south ofIsraelat the top of theSinai Peninsula. However, that area is pretty far removed fromMt.LebanonandMt.Hermon. There is another location for Kadesh (or Qadesh) in northeasternLebanonnear the edge of theArabian Desert, and that is the more likely locale referred to here.
9: The storm is a powerful and majestic display of God’s might, and the people are awed by it.
10-11: In the aftermath of the storm the psalmist pictures God sitting in a throne over the drenched landscape. May such a God strengthen the people! May God let the people live now in peace, the kind of peace and calm that settles over the land after a storm has passed.
Psalm 30 (Day 508) May 23 2011
Superscription: The 27th of the Davidic psalms. The idea is that David composed this hymn to be used at the dedication of the temple which was built by his son Solomon.
1-3: During his lifetime David overcame many foes, internal and external. He is remembering how God rescued him from his enemies, from times of illness, and from times when it seemed certain he would lose his life (“go down to the Pit”).
4-5: God does not punish his people forever but only chastens them as needed. The faithful can be sure that God’s favor will always return. “Weeping may linger for the night, but joy comes with the morning.” What a wonderful attitude of faith.
6-10: David remembers a time when he got a little too big for his britches, as the old folks used to say. He thought he was the cat’s meow, the boy who hung the moon, to gather clichés. But God wouldn’t let him get away with his high minded self-adoration for long. God “hid his face,” and David had to cry for mercy.
11-12: God responded with favor to his supplication and he was restored, and that is his reason for praising God publicly.
Although the psalm is supposed to relate to David’s life and times, it is an appropriate outline for the lives of most believers. We would do well to read the psalm as if it were a summary of our own lives, and remember how God has responded to us in times when enemies gloated or when illness threatened or when vanity turned our heads.
Psalm 31 (Day 509) May 24 2011
Superscription: The 28th of the psalms ascribed to David.
1-5: The psalm begins as a rather typical plea for divine assistance. The psalmist is threatened and turns to God for help. Verse 5 is familiar to Christians as words of Jesus from the cross. “Into your hands I commit my spirit” is an affirmation that, no matter what may befall us God will take care of us. Jesus proved that even death cannot defeat us when God’s will is done.
6-8: The psalmist continues building his case: he has been faithful, unlike those who worship idols. He remembers times when God has come to his aid.
9-13: Now he presents his current situation, and it is a dire one indeed. His position has been the source of considerable stress that has led to distress. His fortunes have failed and he is no longer regarded by his friends and no longer given any respect by his enemies. He has become a tad paranoid and imagines that others are talking behind his back and making plans to do him harm.
14-18: Still, he has not surrendered to his fears. He trusts that God will deliver him and so he renews his prayer for God to take up his cause and confound his enemies and those who slander him.
19-20: He affirms that God takes up the cause of the faithful, and that God’s providence is ever sure.
21-22: Now it seems that the psalmist’s plight has faded and better times have arrived. He credits God for his restored fortunes.
23-24: God’s dependable care evokes a loving response. The last verse echoes Psalm 27:14, a call for courage and patience.
Psalm 32 (Day 510) May 25 2011
Superscription: Of the psalms attributed to David, this is the 29th. It is called a Maskil, along with 12 others (42, 44, 45, 52-55, 74, 78, 88, 89 and 142). The word also appears at 47:7, and there it is usually simply translated “psalm.” So far no one has been able to discover any common element in these 13 psalms, and so a clear meaning of “maskil” escapes us.
In Christian tradition this psalm has been included in the 7 “penitential” psalms, along with 6, 38, 51, 102, 130, and 143.
1-2: The psalm is a teaching psalm about forgiveness. The elimination of guilt is indeed a blessed state.
3-4: As long as our sins are unconfessed they gnaw away at us.
5-7: Confession brings release from the tyranny of guilt.
8-9: These verses may be taken as the words God might speak to the penitent.
10-11: A summary of the experience is given.
Psalm 33 (Day 511) May 26 2011
1-3: An opening chorus of praise that includes musical instruments, singing and shouting – a pretty lively worship service.
4-9: The psalmist gives the reason for praise: the word of the LORD. God’s word is powerful, and is the cause of the coming to be of the heavens and the earth.
10-12: Since God’s wisdom and counsel is eternal and true the nation should acknowledge the sovereignty of God above all human sovereignties.
13-19: The psalmist imagines God looking down to observe the doings of people. It is God who delivers the soul from death; kings and armies and weapons cannot save.
20-22: Therefore the people call on the LORD to be their help and shield.
Psalm 34 (Day 512) May 27 2011
Superscription: This is the 30th psalm ascribed to David. It is imagined that David wrote this psalm when he pretended to be insane because he was afraid of the Philistine king (see 1 Samuel 21:12-15), but it was Achish, not Abimelech.
1-3: The psalm opens with a chorus of praise.
4-10: The reason for praise is given: the psalmist was suffering from some unspecified troubles and God saved him. “O taste and see that the Lord is good” (verse 8) is a well-known expression. This is the only occurrence of it in the Bible.
11-14: Since the psalmist has experienced deliverance from the LORD, he encourages others (perhaps his own children, though the expression is not necessarily meant to be so specific) to learn the things of God.
15-18: He assures them that God watches over the righteous and also the downtrodden and the “crushed in spirit.” (“Blessed are the poor in spirit,” Jesus said – see Matthew 5:3).
19: This is an important verse: the righteous do indeed often suffer. Righteousness is no guarantee of prosperity or good health or public acclaim. However, righteousness is a guarantee of the LORD’s attentive guardianship.
20: This verse was seen by the followers of Jesus to be a prophecy about his sufferings (see John 19:36).
21-22: These sentiments may seem to be a bit naïve, but the psalmist is convinced through his own experience that sooner or later the righteous will be vindicated and the wicked will receive their just punishment.
Psalm 35 (Day 513) May 28 2011
Superscription: The 31st psalm to be attributed to David.
1-3: The psalmist is beset by enemies and so comes right to the point: “Help, LORD!”
4-8: He wishes rather nasty things to be done to his foes.
9-10: He assures God that, once his adversaries are vanquished, he will offer praise and exultation to God.
11-16: The psalmist describes more of his situation: people whom he has treated respectfully have now “gathered in glee,” exulting in his misfortune – misfortune which seems to be the result of some mistake the psalmist has made although he stops short of making a confession.
17-18: The flow of the psalm is interrupted to lift another supplication to God and to promise God that he will be properly grateful when he is rescued.
19-21: Again it is hinted that the psalmist has done something wrong, something that his enemies claim to have witnessed.
22-25: But God has also “seen,” and the psalmist calls on God to intervene and rescue him from their plans to discredit him.
26-28: We have seen a number of psalms that begin with praise. Psalm 35 ends with a promise that he and his friends will praise God as soon as his detractors have been thwarted.
Psalm 36 (Day 514) May 29 2011
Superscription: The 32nd psalm attributed to David. David is often referred to as “the servant of the LORD” (see for example Psalm 18’s superscription and Psalm 89:3, 20).
1-4: The wicked are described: no fear of God; self-flattery; mischievous; deceitful; foolish; giving in to evil.
5-9: By contrast is the steadfast love and faithfulness of God.
10-12: The psalmist pleads, therefore, for God to uphold those whose lives mirror God’s love and faithfulness, and for the wicked to be barred from harming them.
Psalm 37 (Day 515) May 30, 2011
Superscription: The 33rd psalm attributed to David.
1-11: In contrast to earlier psalms that beg God for help against the wicked, Psalm 37 exhorts us to simply trust that God will do just that. “Trust in the LORD,” “Take delight in the LORD,” “Commit your way to the LORD,” “Trust in him,” “Be still before the LORD,” “wait for the LORD.” The wisdom imparted by this psalm is that submission to God’s will and trust in God’s care are necessary precursors to God’s acting on our behalf. “Refrain from anger,” “do not fret,” for “the meek will inherit the land.” Those words should sound familiar because it is almost exactly what Jesus says in the “sermon on the mount” (see Matthew 5:5).
12:15: These verses follow a pattern of action > consequence. “The wicked plot” > “the LORD laughs.” “The wicked draw the sword” > “their sword shall enter their own hearts.”
16-22: These verses draw sharp contrasts between the wicked and the righteous.
23-28a: The psalmist assures us that if we lean on God, God will guide us and protect us. God will not forsake those who are faithful to him.
28b-29: Another pair of contrasts between the righteous and the wicked.
30-33: Because the righteous follow the Law of God, God will not abandon them.
34-38: Inheritance of the land and the gift of children to carry on the inheritance is the promise of the righteous. Law breakers will inevitably lose their inheritance.
39-40: The psalm is summarized: God rescues us because we take refuge in God.
Psalm 38 (Day 516) May 31 2011
Superscription: It is supposed that David wrote this psalm, the 34th ascribed to him, to accompany a “memorial offering.” The memorial offering (of grain) is described in Leviticus 5:12 and 6:15. Also Numbers 5:26. However, it is possible that the intended reference here is to David’s offering of gold and other resources for the building of the temple in Jerusalem even though there is no record of his having presented it as an offering, but see the example of such a memorial offering in Numbers 31:54. The problem is that the psalm itself does not even remotely suggest such a scenario. In Christian tradition the psalm has been included in the 7 “penitential” psalms, along with 6, 32, 51, 102, 130, and 143.
1-8: The situation described in the psalm is instead one of dire suffering. The arrow wounds mentioned in verse 2 may be intended literally or figuratively. The opening verses of the psalm read like a plea raised by an injured soldier who accepts his wounds as God’s judgment for his sins. On the other hand the body of the psalm makes it clear that there are others out to get him and this makes us wonder that the wounds are not the result of literal arrows but figurative ones.
9-14: In his predicament he calls out to God for help. His friends don’t want to get involved, his neighbors stay away, and his enemies are waiting to pounce. He is helpless and can only wait for God to act on his behalf.
17-22: Again he repents, fearful that he has done something to deserve his lot, and begs God for rescue from powerful enemies.
Psalm 39 (Day 517) June 1 2011
Superscription: Three of the psalms (39, 62, 77) mention Jeduthun, a musician in the early religious organization at Jerusalem(see 1 Chronicles 16:42, 25:1-3). This is the 35th of the Davidic psalms.
1-3: The psalm is a prayer for forgiveness and rescue. In these verses the situation is described: he didn’t speak up for himself and as a result his detractors made things worse for him.
4-6: Now he appeals to God, acknowledging his lowliness and the lowliness of the whole human race.
7-11: He asks for God to deliver him; indeed, he thinks God is responsible for his suffering! It is a common sentiment in the psalms that when you are suffering you must have done something to deserve it. Therefore it is proper to confess your sins and ask for forgiveness if you want God to help you. It is a good lesson; in our culture we have lost the art of self-examination. We automatically assume that our troubles are always someone else’s fault.
12-13: A heartfelt prayer for deliverance is raised for God to relax the withering stare of accusation. First admit your shortcomings, ask for forgiveness, and only then are you in a position to pray for rescue. That’s a good formula.
Psalm 40 (Day 518) June 2 2011
Superscription: David’s 36th entry.
1-5: It is not unusual in the book of Psalms that a plea for help is followed by a prayer of thanksgiving.
6-8: Although animal sacrifice was an important part ofIsrael’s early religious life, the Old Testament reveals a growing understanding that what God really wants is not sacrifice but submission. We saw this sentiment first expressed by Samuel during the reign of Saul (1 Samuel 15:22 – “Surely, to obey is better than sacrifice.”) and will see it more fully developed in Isaiah 1:11 and Jeremiah 6:20, and reach its height in Micah 6:6-8, one of the most stirring passages in the Old Testament.
9-10: Once again we see that when God acts on our behalf we must tell the story to others
11-12: It is also true that when God comes to our aid it doesn’t always mean that all our troubles are over for good. Being constant in prayer is indeed good advice!
13-17: The psalmist is not shy about asking God to punish his enemies. Remember, though, that he has already identified his enemies as God’s enemies (verse 4). Neither is he shy about asking God to reward the faithful.
Psalm 41 (Day 519) June 3 2011
Superscription: David’s 37th entry.
1-3: We begin with a premise: God helps those who help the poor. Unfortunately the sentiment is not carried further into the psalm and we wonder why the psalm begins with it.
4-7: Rather, the psalm is the prayer of a sick and dying man. Perhaps it is that he considers himself to be one of the poor and is soliciting help from others who are better off than he?
8-10: Yet, that supposition isn’t sustained. He is a man who is well enough off at least to feed his best buddy. Perhaps his friend, then, is poor, and he is basing his plea for help on the fact that he has helped someone else.
11-12: Whatever the situation, these verses indicate that it has been resolved favorably for the author. But we do wonder what happened to his best friend – was their friendship restored?
13: This is the end of Collection 1 of the Psalms. The first 4 collections end with a similar expression (see 72:18-19, 89:52 and 106:48), and the last with a song of praise (Psalm 150).
Psalm 42 (Day 520) June 4 2011
Superscription: Of the psalms that have a superscription, this is the first that does not mention David. Instead it is attributed to the Korahites, a group of priestly musicians (1 Chronicles 9:19, 2 Chronicles 20:19). 11 of the psalms are ascribed to them (42, 44, 45, 46, 47, 48, 49, 84, 85, 87 and 88).
1-2: This is one of the favorite passages in the Psalms, with many hymns and anthems based on the sentiment expressed here.
3-5: Verse 3 lends credence to those who say this is a psalm of consolation in times of grief. He remembers joyous times of worship in God’s house, the temple, and finds in those memories cause for hope that the time will again come when he can praise God with the congregation.
6-10: Remembering encounters with God in places of pilgrimage (Jordan, Hermon, andMt.Mizar), the psalmist finds comfort even though his joy has been wiped away as though in a flash flood. In verse 3 it was “the people,” but in verse 10 it is his adversaries who taunt him with God’s seeming absence.
11: Verse 5 is repeated, ending the psalm on a note of unabated hope.
Psalm 43 (Day 521) June 5 2011
1-2: Psalm 43 has no superscription, leading some to conclude that it originally was part of Psalm 42, but somehow became separated from it. Psalm 42, and Psalms 44-49 are each attributed to the Korahites, and we have to wonder why Psalm 43 is not. Nevertheless the first verses seem to be referring to a different kind of trouble than we found in Psalm 42; here he is beset by enemies who are ungodly, deceitful and unjust.
3-4: On the other hand, these two verses seem to echo the wish expressed in 42:4.
5: And the concluding lines are identical to 42:5, 11. Try reading Psalms 42 and 43 together and see what you think.
Psalm 44 (Day 522) June 6 2011
Superscription: The 2nd of the 11 psalms ascribed to the Korahites.
1-3: The psalm begins with an acknowledgement of God’s providence in the distant past when their ancestors settled the land.
4-8: The switch from “we” to “I” may indicate that the psalm was to be used ritually, with the priests or the congregation speaking the “we” parts and the king or the high priest speaking the “I” part. The congregation has acknowledged that their victories over enemies have been due to God’s actions on their behalf; now the king echoes that sentiment.
9-14: We come to the reason for the liturgy: their armies have been defeated by an unnamed enemy. The logic used here is that if God is credited with their past victories, then God must also have willed their recent defeat.
15-22: Again the king speaks. Now he is defending the people, proclaiming their innocence and insisting that they have not violated their covenant with God.
23-26: Having declared their innocence, God’s response is sought: either present your reasons for not helping us, or come quickly to our aid.
Psalm 45 (Day 523) June 7 2011
Superscription: The 3rd Korahite psalm, this one “according to Lilies,” which is likely a reference to a tune or series of musical notes. This is the third of the thirteen psalms labeled “a maskil”. One feature of the maskil psalms is that all of them are attributed to specific authors – six to David (32nd, 52nd, 53rd, 54th, 55th, and 142nd), three to the Korahites (42nd, 44th, and 45th), two to Asaph (74th and 78th) and 1 each to Heman (88th) and Ethan (89th). Psalm 45 is also called a “love song.” We moderns would not recognize it as such, but it is a wedding song, probably a song used on the occasion of a wedding of the king to a princess from a neighboring kingdom. Such alliances were common and multiple marriages helped secure the borders on all sides. This one is obviously not the king’s first marriage, as the queen is standing there watching over the whole proceeding (verse 9).
1-5: A troubadour sings the king’s praises. What a guy!
6-7a: “Your throne, O God,” is really a reference to the throne of the king ofIsrael(orJudah). The singer imagines that God has established that throne forever, and acknowledges that God’s intentions are for the king ofIsrael(orJudah) to rule with equity and righteousness.
7b-9: But back to the king. What an excellent fellow! Better than all the rest! What fine robes he wears! Listen to the royal musicians play for him! Just look at his harem! And at his right hand stands the queen herself, all glimmering in gold!
10-13a: So listen, princess, you belong to us now. Forget about Mom and Dad back in the old country. You’re a beautiful girl and the king will be pleased to have you in his palace (it is possible that this is the first time he has seen her), but you have to be submissive to maintain his favor. The more you do that the more the people ofTyre(she is likely a Tyrian princess) will ply you with gifts because of your access to the king. They’ll make you a very rich girl.
13b-15: Ah, here she comes, all decked out in golden finery! Just look at her! Every TV set in the civilized world is tuned in as she is escorted to the king’s palace, followed by her ladies-in-waiting.
16-17: And they will live happily ever after.
Psalm 46 (Day 524) June 8 2011
Superscription: The 4th of the Korahite psalms, this one according to “Alamoth” which is likely the name of a tune or a reference to voices – the word may mean “young women” – which might explain the designation of this psalm as a “song.” The only other mention of “Alamoth” is at 1 Chronicles 15:20 which names the priests who were to play harps “according to Alamoth.”
1-3: As the 23rd Psalm is the best known of those ascribed to David, this one is the best known of those ascribed to the Korahites. Indeed it is said that this is the second best known of all the psalms. It served as the inspiration for Luther’s great hymn, “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God.” The sentiment expressed here is a beautiful affirmation of faith: even though the whole world is crumbling before our eyes, we can still rely on God.
4-5: The middle of the psalm seems to be a vision of how things will be. The “city ofGod” is obviously a reference toJerusalem, but there is no river that runs throughJerusalem. The mention of a river gives these verses an apocalyptic flavor (see Revelation 22:1-2).
6-7: The first part of the psalm proclaimed God as a refuge in the midst of a great earthquake. These verses proclaim God as a refuge in the midst of threats from neighboring enemies.
8-11: As destructive as human beings can be, they are no match for the power of God. The psalmist imagines God looking down on human armies and bidding them to be still.Israel’s God has the power to protect and defend.
Psalm 47 (Day 525) June 9 2011
Superscription: The 5th Korahite psalm.
1-4: A worship service is described: The people clap. God is praised and acknowledged for subduing the Canaanites and giving the land toIsraelas an inheritance.
5-7: The people shout. The psalmist imagines God going up to take his throne as ruler of all the earth.
8-9: The worship climaxes as the “princes of the people,” likely a reference to military heroes, lay their shields before the altar, acknowledging God’s lordship over all.
Psalm 48 (Day 526) June 10 2011
Superscription: The 6th of the 11 Korahite psalms.
1-3:MountZion, the location of the temple, is elevated poetically to become the most prominent promontory in all the earth.
4-8: Enemy kings are pictured being frightened at the very sight of the temple mount.
9-11: It is obviously a time of victory forIsrael(orJudah), and the psalm celebrates it as God’s victory.
12-14: The beauty of the temple andMountZionis offered as evidence that God is with them.
Psalm 49 (Day 527) June 11 2011
Superscription: the 7th Korahite psalm.
1-4: The opening lines identify this as a wisdom, or teaching, psalm.
5-9: There is no need to fear when times are hard and others, who trust wealth more than God, seem to be doing well. No amount of wealth can make one live forever.
10-12: Everybody dies.
13-15: The psalmist finds consolation in death, however. He believes (and this is a rather astounding affirmation in the Old Testament) that the righteous will suffer a better lot after death than the wicked.
16-20: Therefore there is no cause for fear or concern when others are getting rich. Wealth is a fleeting situation at best.
Psalm 50 (Day 528) June 12 2011
Superscription: This is the first of the twelve psalms attributed to Asaph. Asaph was a priest during the time of King David and is mentioned often as being a musician in the temple – see, for example, 1 Chronicles 16:7. It is fitting, then, that this psalm is concerned with the animal sacrifices that were brought in great quantity to the great altar inJerusalem. The attitude taken here towards those offerings may surprise you, however
1-6: The psalmist pictures God summoning the people to the temple. Notice thatZionis described as “the perfection of beauty.”
7-11: God addresses the people concerning their sacrifices of goats and bulls. God has no need of such; every animal on the earth already belongs to him.
12-15: I love verse 12. Although some ancient people actually believed they were feeding their gods when they brought sacrifices, Asaph has no such illusion. God has no need to be fed. Instead, his insight is that what God wants from his subjects is gratitude, obedience and simple trust.
16-21: The wicked imagine that as long as they observe the outward rituals they can behave in any way they please. Their deeds belie the sincerity of their sacrifices.
22-23: The psalm ends with a threat: evildoers will be punished no matter how many sacrifices they bring. God will watch over those who express their gratitude to God and live accordingly.
Psalm 51 (Day 529) June 13 2011
Superscription: The 38th of David’s psalms. Tradition assigns this beautiful confession to David, when Nathan confronted him with the gravity of the sin he had committed with Bathsheba and the punishment he must suffer. You may want to refresh your memory of the story: 2 Samuel 12:1-14. The psalm is used by penitent Christians as a prayer of confession, and in particular is used in worship on Ash Wednesday at the beginning of the season of Lent. In Christian tradition the psalm has been included in the 7 “penitential” psalms, along with 6, 32, 38, 102, 130, and 143 – all but two of these are said to be “of David.”
1-5: This psalm is so beautiful, and its heartfelt expression so powerful, that there is little that can be added to it by way of commentary. The psalmist is utterly convicted of not only his sin but of his sinfulness as well. He has sinned, but his sin arises out of a condition in which he has lived since the day of his birth.
6-9: Honesty is the chief virtue required when we examine ourselves, our actions and our motives. Even so, God must be at work within if we are to experience lasting change.
10-14: And so the psalmist prays to be changed from the inside out. Then he will be in a position not only to atone for his sins but to teach others also.
15-19: God does not delight in sacrifices that are offered half-heartedly or perfunctorily. But when God restores the sinner to righteousness, sacrifices are in order and God will delight in them.
Psalm 52 (Day 530) June 14 2011
Superscription: The reference to Doeg the Edomite recalls the story in 1 Samuel 22:9-10. This psalm is the 5th of the so-called “Maskil” psalms (see the note at Psalm 32). It is the 39th psalm attributed to David.
1-4: A description of a wicked person who plots against a godly one.
5-7: God will deal with such people, says the psalm, in a rather violent manner. We see in verse 7 that the goal of monetary gain has played a role in the specific situation the psalmist has in mind. You may note that in the story of Doeg the Edomite no mention is made of monetary gain.
8-9: Having been rescued from the lies of the wicked, the psalmist gives a public thanksgiving to God.
Psalm 53 (Day 531) June 15 2011
Superscription: The 40th of the psalms attributed to David, and the 6th “Maskil” (see note Psalm 32). “Mahalath,” which occurs here and at Psalm 88, is likely an obscure musical term, but we note that it is also the name of one of David’s granddaughters (2 Chronicles 11:18).
Psalm 53 is almost identical to Psalm 14. The second collection of psalms (Psalms 42-72) is noted for using the word Elohim almost exclusively when referring to God. If you compare the two you will find that every reference to “the LORD” in Psalm 14 is replaced with “God” in Psalm 53.
1-4: Evildoers are atheists. If you believe in God you are less likely to engage in wickedness for fear of God’s wrath. The psalmist declares that all evildoers are unbelievers. Would it also be the case that all unbelievers are evildoers? The psalmist would probably agree to that as well, although altruism is a generally accepted virtue in our culture whether connected with religious beliefs or not. In verse 3, where the psalmist declares, “there is no one who does good,” he is referring to the class of unbelievers, not to the entire human race.
5: Judgment is passed on the wicked.
6: Suddenly the psalm becomes a plea for national deliverance. The godlessness addressed in the first 5 verses is therefore meant as a description of the enemies ofIsrael, not necessarily of individual sinners.
Psalm 54 (Day 532) June 16 2011
Superscription: The 7th of the eleven “Maskils” and the 41st of the Davidic psalms. There are two stories that tell of inhabitants of the Wilderness of Ziph reporting David’s whereabouts to Saul. They can be found at 1 Samuel 23:19 and 26:1.
1-3: The psalm follows a familiar pattern of 1) stating the situation, 2) calling on God for help, and 3) a promissory note should God respond. The situation described is also a familiar one: godless adversaries are plotting against the author.
4-5: The author expresses confidence in God’s help …
6-7: … and promises to make a freewill offering should God favorably respond.
Psalm 55 (Day 533) June 17 2011
Superscription: The 8th “Maskil;” the 42nd Davidic psalm.
1-2: The psalm begins as many others do, with a general complaint that “enemies” are causing unspecified troubles.
3-8: The suffering the author is experiencing is an inner turmoil. It is said that the fear response of the amygdala (the brain’s emotional control center) is either fight, flee or freeze. The psalmist obviously wants to flee the situation, to fly away to safety.
9-11: He returns to the danger, which we learn is more widespread than first indicated, and describes a systemic problem, a cancer in the fabric of the community.
12-15: Now we are told the true nature of the problem and why it has resulted in such anguish: it is not an enemy but a close friend who has betrayed him. Still, the danger comes from “them,” not from an individual. We surmise that a friend has conspired with others who seek to do him harm.
16-19: The author expresses confidence in God, however, and is certain of God’s protection.
20-21: More details are provided: this “friend” has deceived him and conspired with others to do harm to another friend whom the author obviously believes is innocent.
22: I wonder if this verse is addressed to the friend who has been wronged, a word of encouragement from the author who has now discovered the true nature of the situation and is determine to come to his real friend’s aid.
23: The psalm ends with the familiar statement of trust that God will see that justice prevails.
Psalm 56 (Day 534) June 18 2011
Superscription: These next 5 psalms are called “miktams,” as was Psalm 16. The meaning of the word is unknown, but all six “miktams” are ascribed to David. This psalm is presented “according to The Dove on Far-off Terebinths,” the only psalm to receive such a designation. It is thought that this refers to a tune or a musical prelude. In any case it certainly presents a striking picture. The reference to David being seized by the Philistines inGathis likely based on the story in 1 Samuel 21:10-15, when David feigned insanity. We might therefore expect it to be related to Psalm 34 which bears a similar superscription, but the two psalms have little in common.
1-7: I think most of us could use this psalm as a prayer some days, for we all feel oppressed at times by those who are working at cross purposes. The psalm is describing the kind of pressure that comes during the tension of interpersonal conflicts.
8-11: It is comforting to remember that God does indeed count our tears. We are reminded that God is in charge of the universe and that ultimately mere mortals can do nothing to harm us.
12-13: We are reminded us that the life of the faithful man or woman is filled with daily praise and thanksgiving.
Psalm 57 (Day 535) June 19 2011
Superscription: The 44th psalm ascribed to David, this one ostensibly composed on one of the occasions when he was hiding from Saul in a cave (see, for example, 1 Samuel 22:1 and 24:3). “Do not destroy” may be a reference to a tune or the title of a musical prelude (see also Psalms 58, 59 and 75) or perhaps simply an instruction to preserve the psalm.
1-3: The psalm begins with an expression of trust in God and a hint that enemies are lurking in the shadows.
4: “I lie down among lions” is intended figuratively, of course, but we wonder if the imagery identifies the threat as being from within the household of the author, for those would be the people among whom he would lie down.
5: The description of the threat is interrupted by an acclamation of God’s exalted status, which is repeated in the last verse.
6: We return to the struggle and find that the threat has been thwarted and the adversaries have been caught in their own designs.
7-10: The threat has passed with the passing of the night. Dawn comes and the author is safe. God’s praises are sung and thanksgivings are said.
11: Verse 5 is repeated.
Psalm 58 (Day 536) June 20 2011
Superscription: David’s 45th psalm, the 4th “Miktam,” and the 2nd “Do not destroy” instruction.
1-2: Even in Biblical times people in power were too often corrupt. The word “gods” in verse 1 is not a reference to divine beings but to human ones. Some translations have “mighty lords” instead of “gods,” for example.
3-5: The author imagines that some people are born wicked. I am not at all sure I agree with his assessment, but that is how it seems to him. He compares them to certain varieties of snakes, poisonous from birth, that are not subject to the influence of the arts of snake charmers.
6-9: He prays that God will do violence to such people. This is not a nice psalm, but it is certainly a good example of what we all feel when wicked people use their power to hurt others.
10-12: If only God would punish the wicked, then good people would see that being good is rewarded. We might argue that righteousness should be its own reward, but it is good to occasionally see the crooked politician get caught, and the honest hard-working single mom get recognized.
Psalm 59 (Day 537) June 21 2011
Superscription: The 46th psalm ascribed to David, the 5th “Miktam,” and the 3rd “Do not destroy” instruction. The mention of Saul having David’s house watched is a reference to the story found in 1 Samuel 19:11-17. It is imagined that this psalm expresses David’s feelings on that occasion.
1-4a: As with so many others, this psalm begins with a description of enemies and a declaration of innocence.
4b-5: God is summoned to deal with the threat. The reference to “all the nations” would seem to indicate that the enemy is a foreign one.
6-7: Indeed, the image aroused by these verses is of a siege with the enemy arrayed around the city.
8-10: In spite of the threat, God’s help is never doubted.
11-13: Curiously the psalm now asks God not to kill the enemy but rather to make them weak. In this way they will be a constant reminder to the people of God’s might. Otherwise, if the enemy is simply killed, the people will soon forget.
14-15: Again we picture the city surrounded as in a siege. Verse 14 repeats verse 6.
16-17: The psalm ends with another expression of faith in God’s help.
Psalm 60 (Day 538) June 22 2011
Superscription: The 47th psalm ascribed to David, and the 6th “Miktam.” “Lily of the Covenant” is likely a reference to a tune or musical setting, and a beautiful title it is. The references to Aram-naharaim and Aram-zobah are obscure: neither is mentioned in any of the accounts of David’s reign, nor is there any mention of Joab having killed 12,000 Edomites. There are several references, however, to thousands of Edomites being killed – by David (2 Samuel 8:13), by Amaziah (2 Kings 14:7 and 2 Chronicles 25:11), and by Abishai son of Zeruaiah (1 Chronicles 18:12).
1-3: The psalm begins with a description of a terrible defeat.
4-5: Outside the din of battle, though, the psalm helps us picture a rallying point, a banner around which to gather.
6-8: All the territory aroundJerusalemis ruled by God, from Shechem toJudah, fromMoabtoEdom.
9-12: The earlier defeat is taken as a sign of God’s rejection: yet, confidence is expressed that God will ultimately grant the victory.
Psalm 61 (Day 539) June 23 2011
Superscription: The 48th psalm attributed to David. The reference to stringed instruments reminds us that many of the psalms were accompanied by music and perhaps were to be sung.
1-5: This little psalm is a simple prayer of trust in God. It can be used by anyone, verses 6 and 7 excepted. Verse 2b is the foundation for a popular old hymn, “O Sometimes the Shadows Are Deep,” with its recurring chorus, “O then to the rock let me fly.”
6-7: These verses, with their reference to the king, seem to be out of place and perhaps were inserted later in order to use the psalm as a sort of coronation hymn.
8: Verse 8 follows smoothly after verse 5, continuing the sentiments expressed in the bulk of the psalm.
Psalm 62 (Day 540) June 24 2011
Superscription: The 49th psalm assigned to David. 3 of the psalms mention Jeduthun (Psalms 39, 62, and 77), who was a musician in the time of David (see 1 Chronicles 16:41-42).
1-2: The psalm begins with a statement of trust in God’s protection, but there is also a hint that there is no one else who can be trusted; a sad situation.
3-4: There are people, he explains, whose sole ambition is to bring down others whom they perceive to be more prominent than they.
5-8: Who else can be trusted? Perhaps there are friends on whom to rely, perhaps not; but God is always reliable.
9-10: Wealth brings no eternal advantage; rich and poor are all the same in the end.
11-12: “Once … twice” – a common expression found often in ancient wisdom literature. It means that a thing is well attested. You can be sure that power belongs to God and, thankfully, steadfast love as well. In the end we are all judged by how we live.
Psalm 63 (Day 541) June 25 2011
Superscription: The 50th “psalm of David.” The reference to the wilderness ofJudah hearkens to the time before David became king, when he was an outlaw being pursued by King Saul.
1-8: A beautiful prayer of adoration filled with familiar sentiments: “My soul thirsts for you … as in a dry and weary land where no water is” (verse 1). “My soul is satisfied as with marrow and fat” (verse 5). “I think of you on my bed and meditate on you in the watches of the night” (verse 6). “In the shadow of your wings I sing for joy.” (Verse 7)
9-11: It is almost a shame that now the psalm turns to concerns about “those who seek to destroy my life.” They will be punished, but the king (Saul?) will have reason to rejoice. There are two kinds of people in the world, he seems to be saying: those who swear by the king, and those who are liars.
Psalm 64 (Day 542) June 26 2011
Superscription: The 51st of the “psalms of David.”
1-6: A number of common themes appear here: the preoccupation with enemies, real and imagined; the words of the enemy are described as weapons; the enemy lies in wait to ambush the innocent; the enemy always think they are hidden from the public eye and from God’s sight as well.
7-9: God will be victorious, though, and the naysayers and liars will be overcome.
10: Therefore those who live right have reason to trust that God will defend their cause.
Psalm 65 (Day 543) June 27 2011
Superscription: The 52nd of the “psalms of David,” this one labeled simply, “a song.”
1-5: God is praised for answering prayer, for forgiving our transgressions, and for delivering us with “awesome deeds.”
6-8: God is praised for creation: the mountains, the seas, the far-flung lands, and the rising and setting of the sun.
9-13: God is praised for the bounty of the earth: for rain, for rivers of water, for grain, for fields of harvest, and for grazing lands and flocks of animals.
Psalm 66 (Day 544) June 28 2011
Superscription: No one is named as author. The leader is instructed that this may be presented as a song or as a psalm – that is, sung or spoken.
1-4: The phrase, “make a joyful noise,” occurs fairly often in the psalms (see also psalms 95, 98, and 100). The occasion of the psalm appears to be a celebration either of victory or of continuing peace.
5-7: The miraculous escape fromEgyptis remembered.
8-12: The psalm continues with a recitation ofIsrael’s history. After the exodus they endured many hardships, but God led them to the Promised Land, a “spacious place.”
13-15: Now the psalm becomes a personal testimony: just as God rescuedIsrael, God has rescued this psalmist, and in thanksgiving he is bringing offerings to the temple.
16-20: In addition to his offerings, he gives a public witness to what God has done for him – thus setting a good example for us all.
Psalm 67 (Day 545) June 29 2011
Superscription: Another “song,” this one to be accompanied by strings.
1-7: Many scholars have seen this as a harvest song, a hymn of thanksgiving that “the earth has yielded its increase.” A bountiful harvest is reason for all the peoples to praise God.
Psalm 68 (Day 546) June 30 2011
Superscription: The 53rd of the psalms ascribed to David.
1-4: In a land that was regularly overrun by more powerful nations, and even more regularly threatened by its nearer neighbors, we can understand why so many of the psalms have to do with seeking God’s help against adversaries.
5-10: God is seen consistently as the champion of the weak: orphans, widows, the desolate and the prisoners are mentioned in verses 5 and 6. But God’s people are also often described as small and weak among the nations (see Deuteronomy 7:7 and 9:5), and the psalm touches on their miraculous delivery from slavery inEgypt.
11-14: Perhaps a recent victory is behind these verses. The women at home divide the spoils of battle – the reference to silver wings and green gold feathers is perhaps a reference to objects captured from an enemy. Zalmon is a hill near Shechem where one of the early judges ofIsrael, Abimelech, launched an attack on thetowerofShechem(Judges 9:46-49).
15-20: Bashan is a reference to one ofIsrael’s early enemies, King Og ofBashan(see Deuteronomy 3:1-3). Verses 17-18 are difficult to place.Israelwas never able to field a cavalry of 20,000 chariots. Verse 19 describes a scene that was witnessed often enough by the citizens ofJerusalem. God is given credit for allIsrael’s past victories.
21-27: The psalm pictures a great procession into the city and on into the temple compound; the victorious army leads its captives in a processional victory parade for the benefit of the populace.
28-35: The psalm ends with a rising and resounding crescendo of praise to God.
Psalm 69 (Day 547) July 1 2011
Superscription: The 54th of the 72 psalms ascribed to David. Three of the psalms are presented “according to Lilies,” and each is attributed to a different author – the 45th to the Korahites, the 69th to David, and the 80th to Asaph.
1-3: All of us have at times felt that we were “up to the neck” in trouble. The psalmist is afraid of being swept away by some threat.
4-5: The situation is complicated by the fact that there are people who are making false accusations. Apparently the charge is stealing, and the psalm makes the complaint that one cannot give back what one has not taken.
6-8: Furthermore, the psalmist fears that friends and relatives will share in the punishment.
9-12: Apparently the author of the psalm is being targeted precisely because he makes a conscious and public effort to be holy; he is perhaps perceived as being “holier than thou.”
13-15: His plea for help echoes the metaphors used in the opening verses – the deep waters, the mire, the flood.
16-18: The character of God is contrasted with the character of the accusers.
19-21: The complaint resumes: he has been insulted and dishonored. “Poison” and “vinegar” are not to be taken literally, but figuratively.
22-29: The psalmist begs God to let opponents experience what they have inflicted on others.
30-33: Suddenly the psalm erupts in spontaneous praise. This is a common characteristic of psalms that plea for healing or rescue. Praise is offered even before the prayer is answered, and God is thanked in advance. That’s called “faith.”
Psalm 70 (Day 548) July 2 2011
Superscription: David’s 55th. Psalms 38 and 70 are the only two that mention a memorial offering, but there is nothing within the text of the psalm to give us a clue as to why that should be the occasion.
1-5: Psalm 70 is the same as Psalm 40:13-17 with some minor changes in word order and phrases. It is a prayer for deliverance, one that could be used by individuals as well as in community worship. It expresses the frequently voiced prayer that enemies will be dealt with and friends (i.e., “all who seek you”) be blessed.
Psalm 71 (Day 549) July 3 2011
1-4: The fact that no superscription precedes this psalm has given rise to speculation that at some point in time Psalms 70 and 71 were one. Both are prayers for deliverance from foes, but Psalm 71 is a more general application rather than being focused on a particular threat: “Let me never be put to shame,” is the sentiment expressed in verse 1.
5-9: While the prayer has a general application, it is offered by a specific individual. He has trusted God from his youth, and now begs to be helped in his old age.
10-11: He has seen how people sometimes act like vultures whenever someone is beset with ill fortune.
12-13: Retributive justice is a common theme in the psalms: let those who want to hurt others have a taste of their own medicine.
14-16: The psalmist declares that he will hold steadfastly to the hope that God will always be there to help and support.
17-18: An echo of verses 5-9: God has been there since he was a boy, and he begs God to stick around in his dotage.
19-21: God is praised for righteousness and might, and witness is given that, although God sometimes lets us see troubles, God will not forsake us but rather will revive us each time.
22-24: The psalm ends with praise and expressions of trust in God, of course.
Psalm 72 (Day 550) July 4 2011
Superscription: Two of the psalms, this one and the 127th, are ascribed to Solomon.
1-7: Perhaps the reason this psalm is thought to be one of Solomon’s is because of the ego-centered sentiments it expresses throughout. The first verse asks God to give the king justice. The remainder of the psalm is a grand list of what the psalmist thinks God’s justice for the king should look like. Pictured here is a reign that is everlasting, or at least that outlasts the sun and moon. That’s probably a pretty long time.
8-11: Next, the psalmist pictures a far-flung dominion that stretches to the “ends of the earth.” All the other kings should bring tribute and do obeisance.
12-14: Why? Because the king is God-like in his care for the poor and oppressed.
15-17: And while you’re at it, God, he’d like to have lots of gold and bumper crops and growing cities and enduring fame.
18-19: As egotistical as the psalm is in its wishes for the king, the last lines acknowledge that the king has no power to accomplish these things. Only God can insure a king’s success. The expressions in these verses are typical of the way each collection within the book of psalms ends (compare 41:13 and 89:52, for example).
20: The second collection of psalms ends with this curious declaration. There are as yet 18 “psalms of David” to come.
Psalm 73 (Day 551) July 5 2011
Superscription: The third collection of psalms within the book of Psalms begins with this offering from Asaph. 11 of the 17 psalms in this collection are ascribed to Asaph. Altogether 12 psalms bear his name: Psalm 50 is the other one. Asaph was a priest during the time of King David and is mentioned often as being a musician in the temple – see, for example, 1 Chronicles 16:7. His name is associated with more of the psalms than anyone else except David.
1-3: The psalm begins with a confession. The psalmist confesses his envy of the wicked.
4-9: Why should anyone envy the wicked? Well, for one thing they are healthy and good-looking. They seem to be able to avoid the problems with which most people are beset. That is why they are so arrogant. I am reminded of an interview I saw on television of a pornographic movie star who had gotten the attention of the news media because of her association with a politician. She said she had grown up in a Christian home, but now she is a “liberated woman.” Such is the arrogance of those the psalmist is describing.
10-14: It is strange, is it not, how the public clamors after the “rich and famous” without regard to the way they live or how they might have come about their wealth and fame? And so the psalmist confesses that he has become somewhat envious of how easy life seems for them while he and other “good people” suffer.
15-20: In the temple, however, he comes to his senses. He sees how tenuous their lives really are, how superficial and valueless.
21-26: There is no wealth greater than a relationship with God.
27-28: The truth is that the abundant life consists not in riches or fame, but in claiming God as our only refuge.
Psalm 74 (Day 552) July 6 2011
Superscription: The 3rd psalm ascribed to Asaph. See Psalm 32 for a note on the word “maskil.”
1-3: The psalm addresses a situation in which the nation is in danger. There were several occasions when the temple inJerusalemwas sacked by enemies – see 2 Kings 18:16, 24:13 and 25:14.
4-8: The description given of the destruction of the temple probably dates the psalm to the time of the siege of Nebuchadnezzar and the subsequent exile toBabylon.
9-11: How long will God put up with the situation, the psalm asks.
12-17: There is no doubt that God can come to their rescue, for God is the creator who beat back the forces of chaos.
18-23: And so, the psalmist begs God to act on their behalf, to restore the ancient covenant that was made with God’s people, and to not allow godless enemies to prevail
Psalm 75 (Day 553) July 7 2011
Superscription: Asaph’s 4th. “Do not destroy” is an instruction that occurs in four psalms (57, 58, 59 and 75).
1: The psalm begins with praise to God who does wondrous deeds.
2-5: God is the speaker in these verses, and declares the authority to act whenever and wherever is deemed necessary.
6-9: The psalm acknowledges that God is indeed the sovereign ruler who executes judgment.
10: God speaks again, assuring us that the wicked will not be allowed to hold power forever, but that the righteous will prevail.
Psalm 76 (Day 554) July 8 2011
Superscription: The 5th “Psalm of Asaph,” this one with musical instruments, which is befitting a musician in David’s court.
1-3: The psalm begins by praising God, and credits God with thwarting an attack onZion(Jerusalem).
4-6: Some believe the reference to “horse and rider” is a reference to the drowning of the Egyptian cavalry in theRed Sea. However, in keeping with the mention of Zion above it seems more likely that the reference is rather to an attack on Jerusalem during the time of Hezekiah when the besieging enemy was stricken with a plague (see 2 Kings 19:35).
7-9: Therefore the psalm expresses ultimate confidence in God.
10-12: The wrath ofIsrael’s enemies ultimately results in God’s being praised. The psalm thus concludes by advising the people to be faithful to God, for God has been faithful in rescuing them from the “kings of the earth.”
Psalm 77 (Day 555) July 9 2011
Superscription: The 6th of the 12 psalms of Asaph. Jeduthun, Asaph and Heman are mentioned together during the reign of David (see 1 Chronicles 25:6). Jeduthun and Heman were Levitical singers. Jeduthun in mentioned in three of the psalms – the 39th, the 62nd and the 77th.
1-4: The psalm begins with a cry of distress. This is a common theme in the psalms, but in this case the situation seems to be especially severe. Scholars have speculated that the occasion for Psalm 77 is nothing less than the destruction ofJerusalemand the exile toBabylon. Sleepless nights and unspeakable troubles are symptoms of deep depression and anxiety.
5-10: Most devastating is the fear that God has forsaken them altogether.
11-15: The psalmist seeks solace in the memory of how God acted on their behalf in the past. In spite of the dire situation there is no doubt but that God is able to respond. But the reference to the descendants of Jacob and Joseph is also an acknowledgement that God’s response may unfold slowly over the passing of many generations.
16-20: The exodus fromEgyptis remembered in poetic imagery. The psalmist seeks comfort in the fact that God is able to act. There is also the acknowledgement that God’s activity on behalf of the people is often exercised through the leadership of others; in the case of the exodus, through Moses and Aaron, for example. Then, too, there is the acknowledgement that God’s “footprints were unseen.” That is to say, sometimes what God is doing and how God is acting is hidden from view. We can only trust.
Psalm 78 (Day 556) July 10 2011
Superscription: The 7th of Asaph’s psalms (see the note at Psalm 73); the 10th of the 13 “maskils” (see the note at Psalm 32).
1-4: The psalm is introduced as a teaching about the “glorious deeds of the Lord” that is to be passed on to the children of that generation.
5-8: God gave their ancestors commandments that were to be passed down through the generations. But their ancestors were not faithful; and so the psalm is offered as an attempt to revive the obedience of the coming generation.
9-11: The event referred to here is unknown, but is offered as an example of the way in which the people have forgotten what God has done.
12-16: The remainder of the psalm is a recitation ofIsrael’s history from the exodus to the time of David. The reference to Zoan is obscure: it has sometimes been identified with Rameses where the Hebrews toiled as slaves. After passing through the sea they were led by the pillars of cloud and fire, and the well-known story of God providing water from the rock in the wilderness is recalled (see Exodus 17:1-7).
17-20: Even though God provided water from the rock the people still griped about the bread and meat.
21-31: So, God gave them flocks of quails for meat (Exodus 16:13) and manna for bread (Exodus 16:15); but God’s anger also burned against them and many of them died by a plague apparently brought in by the birds (Numbers 11:31-33).
32-41: A litany of the people’s faithlessness and God’s compassion.
42-54: Returning to their days of slavery inEgyptthe psalm recites the story of the plagues that God sent to secure their freedom and their establishment in the Promised Land.
55-66: As verses 32-41 recalled their obstinacy in the wilderness, these verses recite their faithlessness after they had settled the land. The reference to the abandonment ofShilohis the story of the capture of the ark (1 Samuel 4:1-11) by the Philistines. Other disasters are listed as well, brought about because of the people’s faithlessness. But once again God’s compassion comes to bear on the situation and God helps them defeat their enemies.
67-72: Finally, God cut off all the northern tribes and choseJudah.MountZioninJerusalemwas established as God’s throne, and David the shepherd boy was chosen by God to “shepherd his people.” Their entire history fromEgypttoJerusalemis a history of the people’s faithlessness and God’s faithfulness.
Psalm 79 (Day 557) July 11 2011
Superscription: The 8th “psalm of Asaph.”
1-4: The background of the psalm is the destruction ofJerusalemin 587 B.C. The idea thatIsrael– the people and the land – are God’s “inheritance” is expressed in Psalm 78:71 and here in verse 1. We will see it again in the writings of the prophet Jeremiah (see, for example, Jeremiah 16:18). These verses give us a graphic description of the awful treatment the people suffered.
5-7: The destruction ofJerusalemis still fresh enough in the memory of the psalmist that he seeks revenge on “the nations that do not know” God.
8-10: In this time of national crisis it is acknowledged that there is sin to blame. The psalmist asks that their sins be forgiven, and that the sins of their ancestors not be counted against them.
11-13: God is often pictured as a God who hears the cries of the oppressed, beginning with the story of God hearing the blood of Abel crying out from the ground (Genesis 4:10). The psalmist appeals to that part of God’s nature, begging God to listen to the groans of the prisoners being led to the slaughter. The psalm ends with the familiar promise that God will be praised forever.
Psalm 80 (Day 558) July 12 2011
Superscription: Asaph’s 9th. Three of the psalms – 49, 65 and 80 – mention “lilies,” perhaps as a musical arrangement. That this psalm is also labeled “a covenant” is not surprising, as the psalm longs for a renewal of the covenant between God andIsrael.
1-2: The setting of this psalm seems to be from the time of the early kingdom before the tribes split into north (Israel) and south (Judah). There were a number of occasions during which they were threatened by the Philistines or the Syrians (Arameans) or the Moabites.
3: This is the recurring prayer of the psalm; it is repeated in verse 7 and verse 19.
4-6: The situation is described: the nation has deteriorated to the point that there is no longer any respect for them from neighboring peoples.
7: Repeats verse 3.
8-13: The psalmist presents a metaphorical description of the Israelite’s conquest of the land under Joshua.Israelis the “vine out ofEgypt.” God planted us here, goes the defense; why would God let us be uprooted?
14-18: The psalmist begs God to “turn around and look,” see how his people are languishing, and come to their rescue. They will gladly reinstate the covenant they made with God when they entered the land.
19: Repeats verses 3 and 7.
Psalm 81 (Day 559) July 13 2011
Superscription: Three of the psalms (8, 81, and 84) are headed “according to the Gittith.” See the note at Psalm 8 regarding the Gittith. This is the 10th of Asaph’s psalms.
1-4: The psalmist calls the nation to gather at the feast of the new moon. The new moon observance dates back to the time of Moses – see, for example, Numbers 29:6.
5-7: The rest of the psalm is presented as an appeal from God toIsraelto return to the covenant they made with him. God traces his relationship with them to the time of their slavery inEgyptand his provision for them while they wandered in the wilderness.
8-10: God recalls the covenant they made to not worship any other gods.
11-12: God is grieved that the people would not listen. Because they would not listen, God let them go. What else can a parent do when grown children decide on a life course that is contrary to everything they were taught?
13-16: And yet God is willing to take them back. I would not be surprised if this psalm formed the basis of the parable Jesus told about the father and two sons – the one we call “The Parable of the Prodigal Son.”
Psalm 82 (Day 560) July 14 2011
Superscription: The 11th psalm ascribed to Asaph.
1-4: The premise of this psalm is that God has given lesser divine beings authority over the affairs of humans. The situation seems to be not unlike that described at the beginning of the 6th chapter of Genesis. Now a heavenly court is being convened and God demands an explanation for what is happening. The wicked are being vindicated and the weak, the orphan, the lowly and the destitute are being ignored.
5: An accusation is aimed at those lesser gods: they don’t know what they’re doing.
6-7: The lesser gods are therefore sentenced to mortality.
8: The psalmist entreats God to retake authority over the nations. The notion is that God can’t possibly agree with what’s going on in the land; therefore if God will once again take charge justice will once again prevail.
Psalm 83 (Day 561) July 15 2011
Superscription: The 12th (and last) psalm ascribed to Asaph.
1-8: Following up from the sentiment expressed in Psalm 82, now God is asked to actively intervene in the plots of Israel’s enemies – the Edomites, Ishmaelites, Moab, Hagrites, Gebal, Ammon, Amalek, Philistia, Tyre and Assyria. There was no point in history when all these threatenedIsraelat once; this is simply a list ofIsrael’s enemies through the previous generations. Some of them are nearly unknown outside this list.
9-12: The petition is that God will enableIsraelto overcome every threat as they were enabled in the past to overcome other threats.
13-18: The argument is advanced that, if God defeats these enemies, they will know that the LORD is “most high over the earth.” The psalm is likely a very early one, dating from the days when the Israelites’ common belief was that its battles with various enemies, each of whom worshiped some pagan god or other, were actually battles between warring deities.
Psalm 84 (Day 562) July 16 2011
Superscription: For a note on the “Gittith” see Psalm 8. 11 of the psalms are “of the Korahites;” this is the eighth of them. For a note on the Korahites see Psalm 42.
Many commentators include Psalm 84 in a group called the “songs ofZion” along with Psalms 46, 48, 76, 87, and 122 because they extol the temple or its locale. It should be noted that most of them are ascribed to the Korahites.
1-2: The psalm is the prayer of a pilgrim who longs to visit again the temple inJerusalem, the beautiful “dwelling place” of God.
3-4: The birds that nest in the temple compound are the happy residents of God’s house, ever singing God’s praise.
5-7: Here is a snapshot of the pilgrims on their way toJerusalem. The “valleyofBaca” is unknown, and this is the only mention of it in the Bible. But it may not be a place at all: the word “Baca” is related to the word for “tears,” and this would give the passage the sense that mourning is being turned into rejoicing asMt.Zioncomes into view.
8-9: As they near the city a prayer is raised for the king, God’s anointed one. The word “shield” usually is used for God (as in verse 11), but may also refer to the king (see Psalm 89:18, for example).
10-12: The end of the psalm returns to the pilgrim’s longing for the temple and joy at finally arriving there.
Psalm 85 (Day 563) July 17 2011
Superscription: The 9th of the 11 “psalms of the Korahites.”
1-3: The psalm opens with an account of a time in the not-too-distant past when God “restored the fortunes of Jacob.”
4-7: But apparently there has been a temporary setback. No details are given, and the situation may be a time when crops have failed (see verse 12), when drought has been extensive, when the economy has been sluggish or when enemies have been threatening.
8-13: The psalmist expresses confidence that God will respond to the prayer of the faithful. God’s steadfast love will connect with the faithfulness of the people, and God’s righteousness (which looks down from the sky) will result in peace for the land.
Psalm 86 (Day 564) July 18 2011
Superscription: This is the 56th of the 72 psalms of David. Two of them, this one and Psalm 17, are styled “a prayer of David.”
1-10: As in Psalm 17 the psalmist is careful to point out his devotion to God. Emphasis is also placed on the psalmists’ status of being poor and needy. But primarily the psalm is concerned with the attributes of God: God is good and forgiving and abounding in steadfast love. Therefore the psalmist is confident in God’s help.
11-13: The psalmist continues with a petition for God to strengthen his character and with thanksgiving for God’s steadfast love.
14-17: Now we come to the immediate situation: The psalmist’s enemies threaten. The psalmist asks for a sign of God’s favor that will shame the aforesaid enemies and reward his confidence in God.
Psalm 87 (Day 565) July 19 2011
Superscription: The 10th of the 11 “psalms of the Korahites.”
1-7: You will recognize this immediately as one of the “songs ofZion.” Verse 3 forms the basis for John Newton’s wonderful hymn “Glorious Things of Thee Are Spoken,Zion, City ofOur God.” (Newtonis most famous for another of his hymns: “Amazing Grace.”) Zionis extolled as the beautiful dwelling place of God, and also as a city with world-wide significance rivaling that ofBabylon, Philistia,TyreandEthiopia. The mention of Rahab is curious here because Rahab is not a place name but rather the name of the primordial chaos in which the earth was steeped before God brought about the order of creation (see Isaiah 51:9). Some think Rahab is a poetic reference toEgypt. Of course it is also the name of the innkeeper/prostitute who assisted the Israelites in the siege ofJericho, andJerichomay be intended here. Just as the inhabitants of these well-known places proudly claim their heritage, so do the residents ofZion.
Psalm 88 (Day 566) July 20 2011
Superscription: This psalm bears a complicated heading. It is the last of the “psalms of the Korahites.” In 1 Kings 4:31 we are told that Solomon was wiser than was Heman and several others, but the appellation “Heman the Ezrahite” does not appear elsewhere. I suspect he is the same Heman who is mentioned along with Asaph and Ethan and Jeduthun in several places. He was a Korahite (1 Chronicles 6:33) who held a special position among the musicians in the temple. On “Maskil” see the note at Psalm 32.
“Mahalath Leannoth” may be a musical designation but is a puzzle as well. Mahalath was the name of one of David’s granddaughters, and is mentioned in the superscription of Psalm 53 (see the note there). “Leannoth” occurs nowhere else in scripture.
1-7: The psalmist’s condition appears to be that of a life-threatening illness. He is bedridden and in despair.
8-12: His illness has caused his friends to stay away. He wonders if death is final or whether God might still respond after he has died.
13-18: These verses repeat the lament of the first 12 verses with the added complaint that he has apparently never been completely healthy. This is one of the few psalms that do not end on a positive note. Such is life.
Psalm 89 (Day 567) July 21 2011
Superscription: Ethan the Ezrahite was apparently known for his wisdom for he is one of those to whom Solomon is compared (1 Kings 4:31). A companion and perhaps kinsman of Heman and Asaph he is mentioned often in the books of Kings and Chronicles as having a special place among the musicians in the early temple. This psalm ends the third collection within the Book of Psalms.
1-4: This psalm is a celebration of the Davidic dynasty, and I am curious as to why it was not thought to be one of David’s own.
5-18: God is praised as Lord of creation and ruler of the nations. Rahab in verse 10 is in Jewish mythology the personification of the chaos that existed when God began the work of creation. Tabor and Hermon in verse 12 are prominent peaks in theHoly Land, although Tabor is hardly comparable to Hermon. Hermon is located in southernLebanonnot too far fromDamascus, and rises 9232’ above sea level.Mt.Taborrises less than 2000’ above sea level, but is the lone hill on a wide plain which makes it quite prominent. It is the site of a number of battles in the Old Testament and is a traditional site for the Transfiguration of Jesus.
19-37: A recitation is given of the promise God gave to David as recorded in 2 Samuel 7 and elsewhere.
38-45: Now the complaint: God has turned aside and allowed their enemies to prevail.
46-48: How long will this last, he wonders?
49-51: The lament ends with wondering where God’s steadfast love has gone.
52: Then an abrupt sign-off: the typical transition between the different collections within the book of Psalms (compare 41:13, 72:19, and 106:48).
Psalm 90 (Day 568) July 22 2011
Superscription: This is the only psalm that is ascribed to Moses, and scholars think it is significant that this psalm should begin the 4th collection or book within Psalms. The 3rd collection was somewhat fixated on the destruction of Jerusalem and the exile, and ended with God’s rejection of the covenant with David. The 4th collection thus begins by returning the reader to the time of Moses when there was no temple orMt.Zion orJerusalem or a national identity, and the reader, perhaps sitting inBabylon, is reminded that a relationship with God can be possible without any of those things.
1-6: The psalm begins with a comparison between God’s eternal sovereignty over creation and the fleeting existence of people.
7-10: The swift passage of years and the shortness of human life are lamented.
11-12: But God is not questioned. We fear God, but that is as it should be. We should acknowledge that we will not live forever, and such knowledge should result in our living more wisely.
13-17: Now the psalm turns to the plea that was missing in Psalm 89 and begs God to relent and to pour his favor upon them once again. Because of God’s steadfast love there is, there always will be, hope for the future.
Psalm 91 (Day 569) July 23 2011
1-6: Instead of Mt.ZionandJerusalem, now God is “my refuge and my fortress.” God is pictured as a nurturing and protective mother hen.
7-8: Instead of bewailing the good fortunes of the wicked, now there is assurance that the wicked will be punished.
9-10: No evil will befall those who trust in God as their refuge rather than putting their hope in walls and armies. Note the mention of “your tent,” another allusion to a simpler time and a simpler life style.
11-12: Christians are familiar with these verses, of course. They are quoted by the devil as part of the Temptation of Christ (Matthew 4:6).
13-16: A relationship with God is now seen as the surest way to live in peace and security.
Psalm 92 (Day 570) July 24 2011
Superscription: If scholars are right that this section of Psalms was put together for the benefit of the exiles, then we might expect that keeping the Sabbath would be an important part of protecting their identity as God’s people.
1-4: The psalm begins with an expression of the joy of worship. The joy of worship arises out of our appreciation and wonder at God’s creation.
5-9: It is a consistent expression of faith in the Psalms that God’s enemies (those who do not see that God rules) cannot flourish forever. Sooner or later their lack of faith in God will result in their end.
10-11: These verses seem to imply a personal victory for the author.
12-15: In contrast to God’s enemies the righteous (those who accept the rule of God and seek to live accordingly) will thrive.
Psalm 93 (Day 571) July 25 2011
1-5: Psalms 93 and 95-99 are sometimes called “enthronement psalms.” Some scholars have suggested that they were to be used at the annual New Year (Yom Kippur) festival in which God was “crowned” and the rule of God was enacted. This psalm pictures God in the robes of a king, with the whole world, particularly the storm and the sea, celebrating God’s majesty.
Psalm 94 (Day 572) July 26 2011
1-3: Psalm 94 seems to be a wayward insert into the flow of the so-called enthronement psalms, and interrupts the happy descriptions of God as ruler of the earth. Here God is a God of vengeance, and is summoned to deal with the wicked people that have arisen to persecute the innocent.
4-7: It may be that the description of the atrocities given in these verses are from a specific event – the destruction of Jerusalem by the armies of Nebuchadnezzar in 587 B.C. Verse 7 seems to be a reflection of the kind of taunts an opposing army might throw at the defenders (see, for example, 2 Kings 18:29-30).
8-11: God does see, however. Only fools think that God does not take notice of what goes on in this world.
12-15: In spite of everything the author of the psalm refuses to give up on God but insists that, ultimately, God will see that justice is done.
16-23: The author now gives a personal testimony. Although the situation has been bleak, he has confidence that God will bring about punishment for the wicked and relief to the oppressed.
Psalm 95 (Day 573) July 27 2011
1-5: God is hailed as king and ruler of all, in the spiritual realm as well as in the physical realm; from the tops of the mountains to the depths of the seas.
6-7: And so the people are called to kneel before the ruler of creation.
8-11: In response, God speaks. God reminds them of the rebellion of their ancestors in the wilderness at Massah and Meribah (see Exodus 17:7). Because of that rebellion God determined that they would not enter thelandofCanaanand made them wander in the wilderness for 40 years. The psalm thus ends rather abruptly. Acknowledging God as ruler of the earth means that we must accept God’s rulings.
Psalm 96 (Day 574) July 28 2011
1-6: I occasionally include hymns in the order of a worship service that I know will be unfamiliar to the congregation. One Sunday a worshiper exited the service and chided me with, “I know the Good Book says to ‘sing to the LORD a new song,’ but it doesn’t say all three of them have to be new!” A point well taken, but this psalm is right in bidding us to sing a new song from time to time because creation is not a static work; it is a work that is still in progress and God is always in the process of making all things new. God’s work in creation is what sets God apart from and above all the other deities imagined by all the other nations of the world. Their “gods” are indeed no gods at all.
7-9: And so all the peoples of the earth are summoned to worship and to bring an offering.
10-13: All the nations need to learn that God is king of all the earth because the LORD is coming to judge the earth. This reference to a day of judgment will be fleshed out in the books of the prophets into the idea of “the Day of the LORD.”
Psalm 97 (Day 575) July 29 2011
1-5: This is clearly an “enthronement hymn” celebrating God’s rule over the universe. The first section is a rather fanciful picture of God’s appearance, wreathed in clouds with lightning flashing out in all directions.
6-9: Given the above description of God’s appearance, no wonder worshipers of idols are put to shame! The people ofZionare justly proud that their God is “most high over all the earth,” and “exalted above all gods.”
10-12: The psalm closes with an affirmation of the righteous and bids the followers of God to rejoice and give thanks.
Psalm 98 (Day 576) July 30 2011
1-3: This is clearly a victory song, probably given on the occasion of some military success. We note that the success is credited to God, not to any human ruler.
4-6: The psalmist calls the people to a celebration complete with the priestly orchestra.
7-9: As we have seen in other psalms the sea, the floods and the mountains are all invited to join in the celebration. The victory they are celebrating is seen as a sign of God’s sovereignty over all creation.
Psalm 99 (Day 577) July 31 2011
1-5: This is an “enthronement hymn,” extolling God as the Mighty King whose throne is “upon the cherubim,” a reference to the “mercy seat” on the ark of the covenant that was located in the most holy place in the tabernacle and later in the temple. The psalm alternates between speaking about God and speaking directly to God. It appears that the psalm is designed to be used as a responsive reading between the priests and the people. The priests’ lines might be those that speak to God (“Let them praise your great and awesome name”), and the lines that speak about God are perhaps for the people to respond (“Holy is he!”).
6-7: Tradition is always behind the scenes in the psalms. The priests remember how God spoke to their predecessors – Moses, Aaron and Samuel – from the “pillar of cloud,” which in this case likely refers to the cloud of smoke from the burning of incense in the sanctuary.
8-9: The psalm ends with the assurance that God does answer.
Psalm 100 (Day 578) August 1 2011
Superscription: Although many of the psalms are songs of thanksgiving, this is the only one labeled as such.
1-3: The psalm opens with a call to worship. There is an interesting progression in the way the word “sheep” is used in the Psalms. The first and last references are simply to sheep as domestic animals (8:7, 144:13), but in between the word is used as a metaphor for people in several rather distinct ways. First, it is a reference to their suffering, as in “you have made us like sheep for slaughter” in Psalm 44:11 (see also 44:22, 49:14). The next reference also has to do with suffering, but now the people are not just sheep, they are God’s sheep (74:1), and in 78:52 they are God’s sheep being led by God through the wilderness. Then, they become the sheep that God keeps and protects (95:7 and here in verse 3). Lastly we will see the word used to describe an individual as a lost sheep (119:176).
4: The call to worship is extended with an emphasis on thanksgiving.
5: The reasons for thanksgiving are given: God is good, abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness.
Psalm 101 (Day 579) August 2 2011
Superscription: This is the 57th of the Davidic psalms.
1-4: This psalm appears to be the sacred pledge of a king to rule with integrity and with justice, but also with an iron hand. The first 4 verses have to do with character, and reflect the aspirations of many of us who seek to live according to God’s guidance.
5-8: The last half of the psalm, however, contains the king’s promises to deal with corruption in the land, and the approach is two-fold. In the first place unlawful behavior will not be tolerated. Secondly, faithful behavior will be rewarded. Would that all our leaders were so determined to wipe out crookedness in the halls of government!
Psalm 102 (Day 580) August 3 2011
Superscription: This is a beautiful description of the psalm; a prayer of one who is suffering. Too bad it is misleading, as we shall see.
In Christian tradition Psalm 102 has been included in the 7 “penitential” psalms, along with 6, 32, 38, 51, 130, and 143 – all but two of these are said to be “of David.”
1-2: The psalm begins with a plea for God to pay attention, to notice what is happening and come to the aid of the one suffering.
3-7: Then follows a description of the suffering the psalmist is experiencing. The symptoms are: no appetite, no energy, extreme weight loss, high fever and deep depression. It sounds like the flu.
8-9: Because of that awful condition, enemies are closing in like buzzards.
10-11: However, we are surprised by the sentiment expressed here. Suddenly the psalmist is attributing all the troubles to the hand of God!
12-17: And now we see that this is not the complaint of an individual at all; it is the voice of the nation. During the last decades ofJudah’s existence the country had been chipped away by enemies far and near until little more thanJerusalemremained withMt.Zionas its principle landmark. We see now that the description of the “illness” at the beginning of the psalm is a description of the condition of the nation.
18-22: The psalm dares to look to the future at “generations yet unborn” and declares that they will revive the shattered nation.
23-24: So the prayer is the prayer of the people of God. Surely God is not done with them yet. Surely their existence is no more than at the halfway mark. Surely there is more to come.
25-28: God is exalted as creator of all. The earth and the sky will pass away, but God will remain; and because God is steadfast the psalm can end on the positive note that the generations to come will enjoy the presence of God.
Psalm 103 (Day 581) August 4 2011
Superscription: David’s 58th. There are several verses in this psalm that many churchgoers can recite from memory.
1-5: Good things come from God: forgiveness, healing, redemption, steadfast love, mercy, the satisfactions of life.
6-14: God’s patience is remembered from the time of Moses. The story of Moses was a strong source of assurance for the people ofIsraelall through their history. God’s presence with the people in the wilderness is remembered as a demonstration of God’s patience, compassion and slow temper.
15-18: Unlike human beings who come and go, God is steadfast and dependable. There is a proviso, however: God’s best attributes are enjoyed only by “those who keep his covenant.”
19-22: God is pictured on a throne high above the earth, and a four-fold blessing ensues – by the angels, the heavenly host, creation and, finally, “my soul.”
Psalm 104 (Day 582) August 5 2011
1-4: It’s easy to read this psalm as an example of unabashed adoration, even gushing praise, for God. And that it is, but it is also a very powerful theological discourse on the nature of God. Light, the heavens, the waters, the clouds, the winds, fire – these are things that have always possessed great mystery for us. What they all have in common, of course, is that they are merely part and parcel of God’s creation.
5-9: The imagery in these verses may be foreign to us, but a clear picture is presented of God protecting the earth. Actually, the author is using the creation story in Genesis 1 as the canvass on which to paint a picture of God the Creator. These verses capture the third day of creation from Genesis 1:9-10.
10-13: The psalm doesn’t follow the creation story precisely, though, but skips around to touch here and there on whatever marvel of nature comes to the author’s mind. Here we see springs and rivers flowing between the mountains into the valleys, with animals and birds gathering to quench their thirst. None of this happens willy-nilly, though. God is directing the show.
14-23: With a few deft strokes we are treated to a sweeping panoramic view of the plant and animal kingdoms. Cattle feed directly on the grass of the field, but wine and oil and bread require human hands to process. Still, all is attributed to the gracious hand of God. God is the source of the rain that waters the trees, and the birds benefit as well. The rocks and mountains are pictured as the abode of the goats and badgers of course, but the psalm’s special twist is that God did that just for them. God provides for the sun to go down just so the lions can come out and stalk their prey in the darkness. The sun rises so people can come out and go about their business.
24-26: The scene opens up to the wide world full of critters and the great wide ocean filled with more critters, including people in ships and whales splashing in the waves.
27-30: All of it is choreographed and made possible by God. Because of God all of us are alive. God gives life and takes it away, and creation is renewed day by day.
31-35: All of this results in an outpouring of praise. If everything in creation depends upon the wit and will of God, praise is certainly the natural occupation of all who have voice. The wicked are therefore seen as a threat to the very existence of it all, and that is why the psalms so regularly beg God to do away with them.
Psalm 105 (Day 583) August 6 2011
1-6: This psalm is addressed to the “children of Jacob,” the people ofIsrael, and is a call to give God thanks and praise and to remember “the wonderful works he has done.”
7-11: The history of God’s relationship with God’s people is now recounted. The gift of thelandofCanaanwas given as an “everlasting covenant.”
12-15: Jacob and his sons and their families were sojourners in the land, which was ruled by various kings (Abimelech, for example) with whom they made treaties.
16-22: The story of Joseph is captured in these 7 verses.
23-25: The sojourn of Jacob’s descendants inEgyptand how they came to be slaves is recounted.
26-36: The first 12 chapters of Exodus are condensed in these 11 verses; eight of the 10 plagues ofEgyptare mentioned.
37-42: These 6 verses cover the 40 years ofIsrael’s wilderness sojourn. A positive picture is presented, with no mention of the negative experiences – the rebellion of the people, the golden calf, their apostasy inMoab, and so forth.
43-45: All is good and joyful. God gave them the land and the “wealth of the peoples;” but notice that the psalm ends with the briefest reference to the idea that the reason for all these blessings is so that they “might keep his statutes and observe his laws.”
Psalm 106 (Day 584) August 7 2011
1-3: Now we get the rest of the story:Israeldid not “keep his statutes and observe his laws.” (Psalm 105:45). Psalm 106 begins positively enough with a call to praise and a word of reassurance for those who are faithful.
4-5: The psalmist pauses to issue a personal plea for God to remember him when their deliverance comes; a hint that all is not well.
6-12: Aha! All is not well. Sin is at the root of the problem as is so often the case. The author confesses that “both we and our ancestors have sinned.” Then he begins the tabulation of their transgressions. In contrast to Psalm 105:37-38 which gave no hint of any wrongdoing, there is no glossing over in Psalm 106. Here nearly every trespass is catalogued (though not in strict chronological order). They rebelled against God at theRed Sea? Yes, according to the story of the crossing (Exodus 14:10-12) they complained that Moses had brought them out to die.
13-15: These verses seem to refer to the episode of the quail God sent into the camp when the people complained of having no meat (see Numbers 11:33).
16-18: These verses refer to the revolt of Dathan and Abiram (see Numbers 16).
19-23: The golden calf apostasy is recorded in Exodus 32.
24-27: This appears to be a reference to the story of the refusal of the people to go in and possess the land after the spies returned with a negative report (see Numbers 13, 14).
28-31: Numbers 25 tells the story of the influence of the Baal of Peor and the intervention of Phinehas.
32-33: In Numbers 20:1-13 we read the story of the waters of Meribah where Moses brought water out of a rock after the people complained; but he did so in such a way that God was angered and decided that Moses and Aaron would not enter the Promised Land.
34-39: The Promised Land was never completely secured until the time of David, and there are many accounts of the Israelites being lured into the various religious cults of the Canaanites.
40-46: These verses briefly summarize the history of the nations ofJudahandIsrael. The emphasis is on God’s repeated acts of rescue and restoration in spite of the sins of the people.
47: The psalm ends with a prayer for a new ingathering of the people ofIsraelfrom “among the nations,” indicating that the kingdoms ofJudahandIsraelhave been destroyed and the people scattered and exiled.
48: When the psalms were later arranged into five “collections” or “books,” the transition from one collection to another was signaled by adding at the end of the last psalm in each collection a verse which blesses God and acknowledges God’s eternal rule. The first 4 collections each end with a similar expression (compare 41:13, 72:18-19, and 89:52), and the last with a hymn of praise (Psalm 150).
Psalm 107 (Day 585) August 8 2011
Psalm 107 begins the fifth and last collection in the Book of Psalms.
1-3: The introduction presents this as a hymn of thanksgiving, summoning “the redeemed of the LORD” to join in gratitude for what God has done for them. The following sections of the psalm will deal with four groups of pilgrims and the kinds of difficulties they faced from which God delivered them. Each section will introduce a group of people, describe their predicament, have them cry to the LORD, describe how God helped them, then give reasons for them to thank the LORD.
4-9: The first group consists of those who have been lost in the wilderness, threatened with hunger and thirst. They were rescued when they “cried to the LORD in their trouble.” God led them to an inhabited town where they could find food and drink. Verse 6 will be repeated in each section (see 13, 19, and 28) as will verse 8 (see 15, 21, and 31).
10-16: The second group is of those who are imprisoned, apparently through their own doing. Nevertheless, when they cried to the LORD, the LORD set them free.
17-22: The third section deals with those who have been mortally ill, again through their own doing, and again were rescued when they cried to the LORD.
23-32: The fourth and longest section describes a group of seafarers caught in a storm. This time their predicament is due not to their sinful ways but rather to the majesty and power of God’s good creation. They just happened to be on the open water when the storm, symbol of God’s might, struck and stirred the waves. Still, when they cried to the LORD the storm was stilled and they were safe. This will of course remind Christians of the stories of Jesus calming the storm on theSea of Galilee(see Mark 4:39 for example).
33-38: The author concludes the psalm with two scenarios of alternatives. First, there is the belief that both sinfulness and faithfulness have an impact on the environment – rivers, springs, fields, etc.
39-43: Second, there is the belief that the poor and needy have a special place in God’s heart, and those who oppress them are especially scorned by God.
Psalm 108 (Day 586) August 9 2011
Superscription: David’s 59th.
1-4: The psalm begins with the steadfast heart of a faithful author praising the steadfast love of God.
5-6: It is a morning prayer; the dawn has arrived (verse 2) and the sun’s ascent gives rise to the sentiment that God will be exalted “above the heavens.”
7-9: The collection of nations and tribes in these verses is evidence that this particular psalm predates the division ofJudahandIsraelafter the death of Solomon.
10-13: However, it is also a time of war withEdomat a moment when the war is not going well. This description seems to fit best with a later time, when Joram king ofJudahlost his hold over the Edomites (2 Kings 8:21).
Psalm 109 (Day 587) August 10 2011
Superscription: David’s 60th.
1-5: We are reminded in these verses of some of the earlier psalms in which the author was oppressed by naysayers.
6-19: This long section is an imaginary account of what his enemies wish for him.
20-25: He wishes their curses back on them, and laments his present precarious situation. Verses 22-25 seem to indicate that he is physically suffering from a wasting illness.
26-31: God is called upon to heal the author and to execute justice for his enemies. The psalm ends with the typical promise to give thanks and praise to God.
Psalm 110 (Day 588) August 11 2011
Superscription: David’s 61st.
1-4: “My lord” is a reference to the king, who is given spiritual as well as temporal authority in the land. If the people are convinced that the king leads with God’s blessings they will respond to the call to arms against their enemies. Melchizedek makes only one appearance in the Bible (Genesis 14:18-20), but takes on mystical importance as here in the New Testament: Jesus is a “priest forever accord to the order of Melchizedek” (Hebrews 5:5-10).
5-7: God is called upon to affect the victory for the king over their enemies.
Psalm 111 (Day 589) August 12 2011
1-10: God is praised for his wonderful works: providing food, keeping covenant with the people, giving them trustworthy precepts and bringing them redemption. Those who practice “the fear of the LORD” are those who keep the covenant God has offered.
Psalm 112 (Day 590) August 13 2011
1-10: The theme of the fear of the LORD is continued in this psalm. The emphasis here is on the blessings that the “fear of the LORD” (delighting in God’s commandments) accrues to future generations.
Psalm 113 (Day 591) August 14 2011
1-4: The “servants of the LORD” are called to praise God from morning to night.
5-9: God’s mercy to the poor and needy is highlighted, along with the blessing of children to “the barren woman.”Israel’s early history, of course, contains several stories of barren women being blessed with children: Sarah (Genesis 11:30, 21:1-2), Rebekah (Genesis 25:21), Rachel (Genesis 30:1, 22-24) and Hannah (1 Samuel 1:2, 11, 19-20) come quickly to mind.
Psalm 114 (Day 592) August 15 2011
1-7: This psalm celebrates (again) the miraculous work of God in bringing the “house of Jacob” out ofEgypt. The only thing said of the Egyptians is that they are a people of a strange language. (The Egyptians probably didn’t think so.) Then the imagery turns instead to acts of nature in succumbing to the sovereignty of God. The sea “fled.” The mention of theJordanis curious, but it brackets the entire exodus experience from the Red Sea to theJordan River, both of which parted to allow the people to walk across. I’m not sure what the skipping mountains and hills refer to, but they reflect the same sentiment of nature trembling at the presence of the LORD.
8: The pool of water mentioned here is likely intended as a reference to Massah and Meribah at the foot of Mt. Horeb where Moses struck the rock and brought forth water for the people (see Exodus 17:1-7)
Psalm 115 (Day 593) (August 16 2011)
1-2:Israelwas beset by enemies throughout its brief Old Testament history. It was fairly common to use this prayer as a rationalization for God to help them. If God allowedIsraelto be defeated and annihilated, how could the other nations ever come to acknowledge God?
3-8: The one primary difference betweenIsraeland the other nations was thatIsraelworshiped the one God who created the heavens and the earth; the other nations worshiped artificial gods made with human hands.
9-11: And so the author begs the people to trust in the LORD who has been their help and shield throughout the generations.
12-15: Just as God has helped them in the past, surely God will again come to their aid now, and so the author boldly prays God’s blessings for them.
16: Again, God’s sovereignty is acknowledged, and there is evidence here that God has given humans dominion over the earth, and therefore human beings have free will. Chin up, Mr. Wesley! Step aside, Mr. Calvin!
17-18: Only the living can praise the LORD, and to that end the psalm callsIsraelto do just that. Perhaps God will hear and come to help them.
Psalm 116 (Day 594) August 17 2011
1-4: A story of deliverance. The nature of the troubles is not specified, just a general “distress and anguish” from which the author was rescued.
5-7: In any case the troubles are over, and the author is grateful to God.
8-11: Although many commentators speculate that the author has recovered from a severe illness, the psalm really doesn’t say that has been the case. In fact, the exclamation, “everyone is a liar,” seems to indicate that his distress may have had to do with legal problems.
12-19: The last part of the psalm is the author’s promised response to God’s goodness. Verse 16 hints that the author has been released from some sort of bondage; whether it was an illness or an imprisonment or some other form of bondage we cannot say, but the lesson for us is that God can rescue the faithful when they cry out.
Psalm 117 (Day 595) August 18 2011
Congratulations! You are at the Bible’s halfway point. You have read 594 chapters, and after Psalm 117 there remain 594 chapters. Give yourself a treat!
1-2: This is also the shortest of all the psalms, a simple exclamation of praise for God’s steadfast love.
Psalm 118 (Day 596) August 19 2011
1: The theme of God’s steadfast love continues, and provides a bracket for this psalm – the last verse will echo the first. Psalm 118 is the last of the six Hallel (praise) psalms (Psalms 113-118) used by the Jews for the observance of Passover. It is a song of thanksgiving for victory, although it is impossible to relate it to a particular battle recorded in the Bible.
2-4: The psalm is remarkable for its use of repetitions such as “His steadfast love endures forever” in these verses. The summons is first to Israel (the nation), then to the house of Aaron (the priesthood), and finally to those who fear the LORD (foreigners who worshipIsrael’s God.
5-9: Here is the reference to victory, which was achieved because “the LORD was on my side.” The repetition in verses 8 and 9 is a notable element of the psalm.
10-14: The author describes the battle, how the enemy enclosed in on them from every side. Each, “in the name of the LORD I cut them off!” again in triplicate.
15-20: Another triplet is involved in the description of the victory celebration: “the right hand of the LORD.”
21-25: Here the author raises his personal thanksgiving for the victory. This strophe contains two important and familiar verses. Verse 22, the “stone that the builders have rejected,” is quoted by Jesus (Matthew 21:42, Mark 12:10, Luke 20:17), and although in the psalm the cornerstone is likely intended as a reference to Israel, in the New Testament it is taken as a reference to Jesus (Acts 4:11, Ephesians 2:20, 1 Peter 2:6). Verse 24 has become the call to worship used at the beginning of many church services throughout Christianity.
26-27: A festal procession is described, celebrating the victory God has granted.
28-29: The psalm ends as it began, with thanksgiving. Verse 29 is a repetition of verse 1.
Psalm 119 (Day 597) August 20 2011
This is the longest psalm and the longest chapter in the Bible. There are 22 sections, each containing eight verses. The verses in each section begin with the same letter of the Hebrew alphabet, beginning with the first letter aleph and ending with the last letter, tau. Thus, 8×22=176 verses. The entire psalm focuses on one subject, the extolling of God’s Law.
1-8: Aleph. The opening verses of the psalm remind us of Psalm 1. The author expresses the desire to keep God’s law so as to be blameless. “Law,” “decrees,” “ways,” “precepts,” “statutes,” “commandments,” “ordinances,” and “word” (first appearing in verse 9) are used interchangeably throughout the psalm, and some reference to the law appears in nearly every verse.
9-16: Beth. The author continues, describing his determination to learn and keep God’s law.
17-24: Gimel. An underlying theme of the psalm is the author’s predicament, never described clearly but alluded to often. Verse 19 has given rise to the idea that the psalm dates to the time of the Exile. The author is determined to maintain the covenant with God even in a foreign land where other gods are worshiped.
25-32: Daleth. Being under constant threat and pressure, the author determines to cling to the only connection he still has to God; God’s law.
33-40: He. The author relies on God’s law to keep him from turning away from the faith of his ancestors.
41-48: Wau. The law is upheld as the author’s means of surviving his trials.
49-56: Zayin. These verses introduce a new emphasis on remembrance – God is begged to remember his promises; the author remembers “your name in the night, O LORD.”
57-64: Heth. “The LORD is my portion” is a Hebraic expression related to the initial division of the Promised Land to the tribes ofIsrael. The tribal lands were to be given in perpetuity. The author is saying that, whateverIsrael’s circumstances, they still have the LORD as their God.
65-72: Teth. The discovery has been made that humility is a key virtue in keeping the law of the LORD. This goes hand in hand with the sentiment expressed elsewhere that the fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom.
73-80: Yodh. In gratitude now the author offers himself as a guide to others who are seeking.
81-88: Kaph. His suffering is long and arduous and he wonders when God will act on his behalf. In the meantime he clings to the covenant, believing that God’s steadfast love will ultimately win the day.
89-96: Lamedh. The theme of waiting for the LORD continues, but it is an active waiting, a waiting of obedience and hope.
97-104: Mem. The benefits of the law are important; obedience keeps the faithful from evil.
105-112: Nun. Amy Grant made a big hit song out of verse 105. The author of the psalm is telling us that obedience to God’s law has kept him from going the wrong way. Verse 110, in referring to the wicked, may not mean the author is in mortal danger, rather that he is being tempted, and fidelity to God’s law keeps him from straying.
113-120: Samekh. The “double-minded,” the “evildoers,” the “wicked of the earth,” all scheme to drag others down to their level. It is no different in our world today.
121-128: ‘Ayin. Again and again the author reiterates his faithfulness in the face of his oppressors, strengthened by the law and by God’s steadfast love.
129-136: Pe. Not only is the author struggling to be faithful to God’s law, he has a genuine concern that others are making no effort. It must have been a stressful situation to try to maintain the old religious scruples in the midst of a culture under pressure to conform to foreign ways.
137-144: Tsadhe. The author insists that God’s way is the right way. The more I read the psalm the more I am convinced that his suffering is the suffering of someone whose deep religious faith has become an object of ridicule by the very people who should be sharing it.
145-152: Qoph. It is a difficult thing to practice holiness in the midst of people who make a mockery of your faith. The author is clinging to his faith against all odds.
153-160: Resh. There is the barest hint that the author is feeling a bit superior because of his diligence in obeying the law. If that is the case, we might understand a little better why his neighbors persecute him.
161-168: Shin. The author insists on his fidelity and clings to the hope that his faithfulness will bring inner peace.
169-176: Tau. In the end his humility returns and he confesses his imperfection. That is a good way to end this soliloquy on the law of God.
As for you, you deserve a reward for sticking to this psalm and reading it through today. How about a cup of Italian Ice?
Psalm 120 (Day 598) August 21 2011
Superscription: Psalm 120 begins a collection of 15 psalms (120-134) called “songs of ascents.” Scholars generally believe these are pilgrim psalms, to be used by worshipers going up toJerusalemfor one of the great festivals.
1-2: The psalm begins as a cry of distress, although it is not immediately clear whether the “lying lips” and the “deceitful tongue” belong to the author or to others!
3-4: Though most commentators attribute the “deceitful tongue” to some foreign oppressor it seems to me that it is the author’s self-assessment. It is his tongue that has been deceitful, and he is praying relief from it.
5-7: Now we learn that the author is dwelling in a foreign land, although many scholars argue that the references to Meshech and Kedar are metaphorical because Meshech is believed to have been in Asia Minor far north ofIsraelwhile Kedar is believed to have been in Arabia to the southeast ofIsrael. This gives rise to the idea that the “I” in the psalm is not an individual at all, but a reference to the collective scattered tribes ofIsraelvoicing the desire to leave those war-mongering places and return home toJerusalem.
Psalm 121 (Day 599) August 22 2011
Superscription: The second of the “songs of ascent.”
1-8: When Jan and I go up toLakeJunaluskain the mountains of westernNorth Carolinaa sense of peace seems to wash over us as soon as we are surrounded by those hills. That is what I imagine the author of this little psalm is expressing as he approachesJerusalem. God’s protection and care are as sure as the standing hills, and just visiting the place leaves one with a feeling that all will be well.
Psalm 122 (Day 600) August 23 2011
Superscription: The third “song of ascents,” and the 62nd of the “psalms of David.”
1-5: Verse one is said to be one of the most familiar sayings in the Bible. The author is among a group of pilgrims arriving inJerusalemfor one of the festivals the tribes were required to attend. They are enthralled with the city; the temple, the walls and the “thrones of judgment” – probably a reference to the Hall of the Throne built by Solomon as the place where kings would pronounce their decrees (see 1 Kings 7:7).
6-9: Peace and security was of course uppermost in the minds of the pilgrim groups who arrived in the city for the festivals, and that is the prayer they raise here. The good of the city is sought by all the believers who come there, for that is where the house of God is located. It has been suggested that the psalm is post-exilic, for the peace of Jerusalemwas certainly a primary concern for those who were allowed to return. Much of this 5th collection of psalms (Psalms 107-150) seems to be designed for the edification of the people during that time in their history. It seems to me, though, that the psalm has all the elements of an early composition, regardless of its position in the book of Psalms.
Psalm 123 (Day 601) August 24 2011
Superscription: The 4th “song of ascents.”
1-4: This is truly the psalm of the poor. The petitioners look to God as those who are accustomed to looking up at authority. They cry to God for relief from the scorn of “those who are at ease.” Why is it that those who have more than enough so often view with contempt those who have too little?
Psalm 124 (Day 602) August 25 2011
Superscription: The 5th “song of ascents.” The 63rd of the psalms ascribed to David.
1-8: A national prayer of gratitude for deliverance from an enemy who has attacked, apparently without provocation. A disaster has been averted, and in the aftermath they breathe a great sigh of relief. Against overwhelming odds, somehow they survived the attack. Surely their victory was divinely orchestrated, and a song of glad thanksgiving is raised.
Psalm 125 (Day 603) August 26 2011
Superscription: the 6th “song of ascents.”
1-5:MountZionwas more than just the address of the temple, and more than just a landmark to travelers on the long road. It became a symbol for the steadfastness of God, and that is what is celebrated in this psalm. The last two verses echo a sentiment we have seen often in the psalms: a prayer that God will reward the righteous and punish the wicked. This is more than a cry for justice; it is an acknowledgment that wickedness threatens the very existence of the nation, indeed of creation itself.
Psalm 126 (Day 604) August 27 2011
Superscription: the 7th of the 15 “songs of ascents.”
1-6: The people of Israel had been in exile for about 70 years in Babylonia when Cyrus issued the decree that allowed them to return to Jerusalem and rebuilt the temple and the city (see 2 Chronicles 36:22-23). This psalm records the elation that some of the people felt, and probably records their hopes as they set out on the journey. The accounts in Ezra and Nehemiah make it clear that what they found when they got there was a daunting task of rebuilding a crumbled city and a nearly nonexistent infrastructure. Still, God had acted on their behalf to restore them to their homeland, and though faced with a dire situation it still was evidence that God had not forgotten them.
Psalm 127 (Day 605) August 28 2011
Superscription: The 8th of the “songs of ascents.” This is also one of the two psalms ascribed to Solomon – the other being Psalm 72.
1-5: It’s easy to see why scribes thought it fitting to affix Solomon’s name to this psalm because he was, after all, the king who built the temple in Jerusalem and established the worship customs of the Jews for centuries to come. The theology of the psalm is basic to Judaism and Christianity: any human undertaking should be undergirded with prayer and with seeking the will of God. The reference to the importance of having many sons is in keeping with the culture of the time.
Psalm 128 (Day 606) August 29 2011
Superscription: The 9th “song of ascents.”
1-6: The benefits of living in obedience to God are listed in this little psalm. To be sure, it is a patriarchal hymn that upholds the large family as the epitome of blessedness, but the time and place in which it was written were a milieu that supported such a sentiment. Look beyond that to the rest of the psalm which claims for the faithful success in their labors (not great wealth, we notice, but diligent work does put food on the table), the prosperity of the community, and long life.
Psalm 129 (Day 607) August 30 2011
Superscription: The 10th “song of ascents.”
1-8: The opening verses are the cry of an oppressed people and prompt many commentators to conclude that this psalm dates to about the time of the return of the exiles fromBabylon. They have suffered abuse from “them,” and there is a hint of the opposition of other regional groups to the reestablishment ofZionas the religious center of the Jews. Their oppressors, for all their power, do not have the goodwill of those neighbors who pass by the humble dwellings of the poor and call out their blessings.
Psalm 130 (Day 608) August 31 2011
Superscription: The 11th of the 15 “songs of ascents.” In Christian tradition this psalm has been included in the 7 “penitential” psalms, along with 6, 32, 38, 51, 102, and 143 – all but two of these are said to be “of David.” In the Latin mass Psalm 130 is known simply as the “de profundis” (“from the depths”).
1-2: All of us can relate to the opening words, “Out of the depths,” because all of us have been in situations that felt like holes out of which we could not climb. The opening lines of the psalm carry the simple request for God to hear.
3-4: Next the author acknowledges God’s sovereignty and our dependence on God’s mercy.
5-6: And so, the request being raised, there is nothing to do but wait and hope. The plaintive doublet in verse 6 underscores the anxiety of the situation.
7-8: Yet, as is so often the case in the psalms, the author’s primary concern is for the whole community of God’s people, and therefore the prayer ends with an expression of confidence that all will be well regardless of the outcome of the individual’s circumstance.
Psalm 131 (Day 609) September 1 2011
Superscription: The 12th “song of ascents;” The 64th “psalm of David.”
1-3: This is my favorite among all the songs of ascents. It is the simple prayer of a humble believer who simply wishes to sit awhile in God’s lap. I love the expression, “like a weaned child.” There is no need, no desire to be fed, no agenda, indeed no reason at all to be there other than to be quietly in the company of the giver of life. It is the best kind of prayer.
Psalm 132 (Day 610) September 2 2011
Superscription: The 13th, and longest, “song of ascents.”
1-5: The opening verses recall the story in 2 Samuel 7 about David desiring to build a temple, having just brought the Ark of the Covenant up toJerusalem. Verses 3-5 ought to be a call to faith for all of us – waste no time in finding a place in your life for God.
6-7: The call goes out that God’s dwelling place has been established, and the people are summoned to worship. Ephrathah isBethlehem.
8-10: Many commentators date this psalm to the time of Solomon because the words of verses 8 and 9 were spoken by Solomon in his prayer of dedication of the temple (see 2 Chronicles 6:41-42).
11-18: The covenant God made with David is recalled, and the psalm ends with the affirmation that God will blessZionfor all time.
Psalm 133 (Day 611) September 3 2011
Superscription: the 14th of the “songs of ascents.”
1-3: This is a powerful little psalm that extols the virtue of unity. Two images are employed to describe the refreshing and life-giving quality of living in harmony. The first recalls the anointing of Aaron atMt.Horeb(see Leviticus 8:12), emphasizing the refreshing feeling of the oil soaking into his collar. The second image is the dew which falls on the hills ofZion.Mt.Hermon, in southernLebanon, rises almost 10,000’ above sea level and is almost always crowned with snow. The psalmist imagines that to be the source of the dew that falls aroundJerusalem, there being no other visible source.
Psalm 134 (Day 612) September 4 2011
Superscription: the 15th and last of the “songs of ascents.”
1-3: A fitting end to this little collection of processional psalms for pilgrims toJerusalem. The first of them (Psalm 120) cries to God for deliverance; the last of them offers God’s blessing.
Psalm 135 (Day 613) September 5 2011
1-4: This hymn of praise begins with a threefold call for those who are gathered in the temple courtyard to praise God. This is followed by three reasons to praise God: God is good; God is gracious; and God has chosen Jacob/Israel.
5-7: In an agrarian culture the power and majesty of nature are accepted as evidence of God’s greatness.
8-12: History is also evidence of God’s greatness. God overcame mightyEgypt, ruled by a Pharaoh who claimed divine status. Sihon and Og are mentioned again as examples of how God is mightier than the might of human armies (see the stories in Numbers 21 and Deuteronomy 3).
13-18:Israel’s God is compared with the no-gods of the nations, artificial gods who have no power at all.
19-21: The call to praise is repeated, summoning first the house ofIsrael(all the descendants of Jacob), then the house of Aaron (the priesthood), then the Levites (temple servants), and finally “you who fear the LORD” (non-Israelites converted to faith inIsrael’s God), so that figuratively speaking at least the whole world is summoned toJerusalemto worship God.
Psalm 136 (Day 614) September 6 2011
1-3: Every verse in this psalm (26 of them) contains a declaration followed by, “for his steadfast love endures forever.” The opening verses are a call to give thanks to God.
4-9: The psalm is then presented in two primary sections. This first section glorifies God for creating the heavens and the earth.
10-22: This second primary section glorifies God for bringing Israel out of Egypt and establishing them in the Promised Land.
23-26: A summary statement of God’s acts on behalf of Israel closes out the psalm, the last verse echoing the first.
Psalm 137 (Day 615) September 7 2011
1-3: Psalm 137 captures the anguish of the refugees from Jerusalem as they begin their time of exile in Babylon. The locals want the newcomers to entertain them, but the exiles are in no mood for singing.
4-6: They are determined to remember, determined to never allow their conquerors to conquer their spirit.
7-9: Revenge is uppermost in their minds, and can you blame them? They remember how the Babylonian army had ravaged their city and their neighbors. They had watched enemy soldiers slaughter the children of Jerusalem, and as they begin their time of captivity all they can think about is doing unto their enemies what their enemies have done unto them.
Psalm 138 (Day 616) September 8 2011
Superscription: The 65th “psalm of David.”
1-3: A personal prayer of thanksgiving by an individual, perhaps of royal lineage, who has received spiritual strength as an answer to prayer. The reference to the temple post-dates the psalm beyond the time of David, however. The prayer is offered “before the gods,” emphasizing the LORD’s prominence above all the deities of other religions.
4-5: As a result of the answered prayer somehow all the kings of the earth have cause to praise God as well.
6-8: It is the “lowly,” those who are humble, who are granted an audience by God. The proud are kept at a distance. Dependence on God and God alone for deliverance is a sign of humility, and so the prayer can end with an expression of confidence that God will secure the future. “The work of your hands” is perhaps a reference to Israel.
Psalm 139 (Day 617) September 9 2011
Superscription: The 66th of David’s 72 psalms; it continues a section of 8 successive psalms ascribed to David.
1-6: In theological terms there is perhaps no more powerful statement anywhere in the Bible of God’s omniscience (all-knowingness) than Psalm 139. Here that attribute of God is expressed in terms of an intimate relationship with an individual. God’s knowledge is condensed to the level we can understand: God knows me.
7-12: The affirmation of God’s omniscience is followed by an affirmation of God’s omnipresence, also condensed to a personal level: God is with me. There is nowhere we can go that God is not. Charles Lindberg, noted aviator of the early 20th century, had verses 9 and 10 engraved on his tombstone.
13-18: God’s work in creation is celebrated in touching terms in which the author imagines his own creation, and God’s foreknowledge is beautifully expressed in verse 16.
19-24: But now the psalm takes a sudden turn in an unexpected outburst against “the wicked.” It is as though the author of the psalm suddenly feels the need to ally himself with the awesome omniscient omnipresent author of life, and so the psalm ends with an invitation for God to search his inner being to make certain he is not among “the wicked.”
Psalm 140 (Day 618) September 10 2011
Superscription: David’s 67th.
1-3: A familiar theme – an almost paranoid fear of harm from unnamed enemies who may be surreptitiously plotting violence against the author of the psalm.
4-5: He imagines all kinds of pitfalls and begs God’s guardianship.
6-8: He is confident in God’s help because God has helped in the past.
9-11: He imagines the kinds of punishment God might unleash on those who plan mischief against him.
12-13: A typical ending – an expression of confidence that God will uphold the rights of the righteous.
Psalm 141 (Day 619) September 11 2011
Superscription: David’s 68th.
1-4: As the last psalm concerned imagined enemies, this is a prayer of protection against the author himself becoming like them! He is asking God to keep him from engaging in the same kinds of iniquity with which he feels threatened from others. I remember a quote from the old comic strip “Pogo:” “We have met the enemy and he is us.” This is what the psalmist is asking to be protected from.
5-7: The author recognizes that he sometimes needs to be corrected, and realizes that if he allows himself to use the same tactics as his enemies he will never overcome them, nor deserve to do so.
8-10: His prayer is that he will remained focused on God – that is, he will endeavor to live according to God’s laws – and that God will protect him from his enemies.
Psalm 142 (Day 620) September 12 2011
Superscription: the 13th and last of the “Maskils” (see note at Psalm 32). The 69th of the 72 “psalms of David.” The reference to David being in a cave applies to his early years as an outlaw trying to avoid Saul’s wrath (1 Samuel 22).
1-4: The complaint of this little psalm certainly speaks to David’s circumstances and it is easy to see why it was thought that David was the author. In any case we find again a situation in which the author feels persecuted and believes that there are people out to get him.
5-7: He cries out to the LORD for protection and rescue, and promises in return to pay his debt of thanksgiving.
Psalm 143 (Day 621) September 13 2011
Superscription: In Christian tradition this psalm has been included in the 7 “penitential” psalms along with 6, 32, 38, 51, 102, and 130 even though there is no element of confession in it; a trait it has in common with several of the other “penitential” psalms. All but two of these are said to be “of David.” This one is the 70th of the “psalms of David.”
1-2: This is as close as the psalm comes to being penitential – the admission that nobody is perfect.
3-6: Enemies are in pursuit, a description which may actually reflect a time of war or may be a metaphor for other kinds of troubles. In the midst of them the author remembers how God has acted in the past and raises a petition for God’s help in the present.
7-12: He begs for God to intervene. The images used in this last half of the psalm are varied and a bit confusing, alternating between begging for help and petitioning for guidance and wisdom, but in the end resting on trust in God’s steadfast love.
Psalm 144 (Day 622) September 14 2011
Superscription: The 71st of the “psalms of David.”
1-2: Right away we see that this is the prayer of a commander of armies, perhaps a king (perhaps even David) who is preparing for battle.
3-4: These verses seem out of place. Verse 3 echoes Psalm 8:4 and verse 4 expresses a common theme (see, for example, Psalm 39:5, 11), but what does this have to do with the subject at hand?
5-8: The enemy is denigrated as a pack of liars and cheats, and God is summoned to come and fight on behalf of David.
9-11: In response the king will “sing a new song” and play the harp in praise and thanksgiving. Again the enemy is described in disparaging terms.
12-15: These verses would certainly be encouraging to the people of Jerusalem who have returned from exile in Babylon and have been hard at work rebuilding the city. The hope expressed in verse 14 in particular fits this time frame. Perhaps these verses were added later – Collection V of the Psalms seems designed to provide a theological foundation for the people of post-exilic Jerusalem.
Psalm 145 (Day 623) September 15 2011
Superscription: The 72nd and last of the “psalms of David,” and fittingly a hymn of praise.
1-3: The psalm begins with the declaration that God is always and ever worthy of praise.
4-7: Each generation has the responsibility of telling the next what God has done.
8-9: This is a standard “creed” of the Old Testament: God is gracious, merciful, slow to anger, abounding in steadfast love, good to all, and concerned for all creation.
10-13: It strikes me that verse 12, “make known to all people your mighty deeds,” is not unlike the Great Commission of Matthew 28:19.
14-21: God made the world in such a way that everything needed is provided, and provided for everyone. However, the wicked are singled out for exception. The belief expressed consistently in the Psalms is that the wicked represent counter-creation and therefore they will not be allowed to ultimately prevail.
Psalm 146 (Day 624) September 16 2011
1-2: Psalm 146 begins the last section of the book, a series of five songs of praise often referred to as the Hallel psalms because each of the five begins and ends with the words Hallel-lu-yah (“Praise the LORD”). The opening verses declare the author’s intent to live a life of praise.
3-4: Here is good advice – don’t depend on earthly rulers (or elected officials) who are incapable of determining the future.
5-7: Instead, depend on God who made the whole shebang and watches over it.
8-9: God is especially concerned with those who have been cast aside – the oppressed, the hungry, the imprisoned, the blind, the stranger, the orphan and the widow – but will thwart the plans of the wicked.
10: The psalm ends as it begins: “Hallelujah!”
Psalm 147 (Day 625) September 17 2011
1-11: The longest of the Hallel psalms, this one is filled with action verbs describing God’s acts on behalf of Jerusalem. God builds, gathers, heals, binds up, numbers, names, lifts up, casts down, covers, prepares, makes, gives, takes pleasure. In the first half of the psalm these actions are broken up by laudations for God, who is gracious, abundant in power and understanding.
12-20. In this second half which begins again with a Hallelujah, this time exacted of Jerusalem and Zion, there is no break but simply a long list of God’s actions: he strengthens, blesses, grants peace, fills, sends out, gives snow, scatters frost, hurls hail, sends his word, melts, makes and declares, all this activity exclusively for Jerusalem. A Hallelujah punctuates the whole.
Psalm 148 (Day 626) September 18 2011
1-6: Hallelujah! The first movement of the psalm calls the heavens and all its hosts – including sun, moon and stars, angels and other heavenly beings – to praise the LORD because the LORD created them. God “fixed their bounds,” a way of saying that God has defined all the parameters of their existence including beginning and end.
7-10: Now the call to praise descends to the earth. Creatures of the sea, weather patterns, geographical features, wild and domestic animals, insects and reptiles and birds are summoned to worship.
11-12: Next, the call to praise is extended to human beings. We are all lumped together in the summons regardless of position, economic status, sex or age.
13-14: Only God is worthy to be praised, for only God is “above earth and heaven.” Although God is hailed as creator and ruler of all, God has chosen to fulfill his purposes through a specific people, Israel. The phrase “a horn for his people” sometimes refers to a particular leader that has arisen, but the context here seems to refer rather to God’s promise of restoration and protection. Hallelujah!
Psalm 149 (Day 627) September 19 2011
1-5: Hallelujah! In the last psalm we saw the call to praise proceed from heaven to earth, from inanimate objects to animals to people to Israel. This psalm focuses exclusively on Israel and is a summons to the “assembly of the faithful” to praise the LORD because God “takes pleasure in his people.” Their praise is to be expressed through singing and rejoicing and dancing and making melody, not only in holy assemblies but also “on their couches,” that is, in their homes.
6-9: Now the psalm takes an unexpected turn. The praise of God is to be expressed vocally while their hands are brandishing swords! Judgment is pronounced on the nations and peoples who have been enemies of God’s people. We call to mind the scene described in Nehemiah 4:13 where the people are engaged in rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem, carrying swords and spears while they work in the midst of threats from their enemies to disrupt their efforts. Hallelujah!
Psalm 150 (Day 628) September 20 2011
1-6: Hallelujah! It is fitting that the last psalm tells us the where, why, how and who of praising God. Where? In his sanctuary, the place God established as his dwelling place on earth. Why? Because God’s mighty deeds and surpassing greatness are worthy of praise. How? With every instrument that is available. (Notice that the instruments listed involve the breath, the fingers, the hands, the legs, the feet – the whole person, in other words.) Who? Why, everything that breathes, of course. Hallelujah!
And now give yourself a treat because you have finished the longest book in the Bible and are well on your way to the New Testament. (The second and third longest books are waiting, however!)