You will quickly notice that Psalms is unlike any other book we’ve read. It is a compilation of songs and prayers that were produced by worshipers of the LORD over multiple centuries. Many of them, if perhaps not all of them, were intended to be set to music. They are poetry, not prose, and so are full of alliteration, metaphor, rhythm and emotion. They are not passive observers of history, but are reflective, contemporary and active.
While each Psalm stands as an autonomous product, there are often themes and threads that produce intersections between them. It might be helpful to think of the book of Psalms like a crossword puzzle. Each answer on a crossword has its individual meaning, but they intersect other words to produce an entire puzzle – if not a work of art. Looking for those intersections can be one of the joys of reading the book in its entirety. Notice, today, as the theme of righteousness binds Psalms 1 and 2 and reaches a climax in Psalm 5, and how the LORD’s salvation and refuge thread together Psalms 3, 4, 6, and 7.
Another treat is starting to decipher the structure and rhythm of the Psalms. Take just a glancing look and notice that Psalm 1 fits an A – B pattern: the first half trails a righteous man and the second half trails the wicked. Others, like Psalm 8, follow an arc that begins and ends at the same point. “O Yahweh, our Lord, how majestic is Your name in all the earth!” is the launch point, followed by an assertion of creation’s testimony. The pinnacle is in the center: “What is man that you are mindful of him…yet you have made him a little lower than the angels, [and] given him dominion…” over this very creation that declares the LORD’s majesty. The Psalm lands back at home plate, if you will, by again proclaiming “O Yahweh, our Lord, how majestic is Your name in all the earth!”
Finally, Psalms gives us a view into what it was like to live and worship the LORD in real time. A few Psalms we’ll read today were written or commissioned by King David during specific events. Look back at 2 Samuel if you need to be refreshed on the tragic story of his son, Absalom, or the insults he endured at the hands of the Benjamites. And now see how those events were channeled into prayers that were both effective in context and, importantly, connect people of every age through their emotion, reflection, and longing.
Our verse for this week is Luke 16:13: No servant can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.
Psalms 1 through 8. Now let’s read it!
No servant can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.”