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God’s Songbook to Educate, Encourage & Equip His People

Recently during CCHF’s week of prayer, a Divine appointment brought an ill-looking young lady to Good News Community Health Center in Portland, for treatment of open skin abscesses.  She was referred by our local hospital, having no medical insurance or means to pay.  Her heroin addiction had led to the loss of her job, her home, and the  custody of her 3 year old daughter. She had recently been released from jail, while her boyfriend remained incarcerated.  A broken relationship with her mother who lived close by left her couch-surfing with acquaintances still on drugs.  Abused in childhood, she felt neglected all her life, with no spiritual foundation.  As we looked eye to eye, I was moved with compassion for her, touched by her loneliness and pain. I offered our help to secure housing and regain custody of her daughter. She said she would get back to me, and appreciated our care of her wounds, the prayer, and especially the Bible offered.  Clutching it close to her bosom, and smiling timidly to hide decaying teeth, she said that she had started reading the Psalms while in jail.

I marveled that God’s Spirit would draw a bedraggled mother to start her pilgrimage toward Him with the Psalms! I would have recommended starting in the New Testament, perhaps with the Gospel of John.  Why the Psalms?  The resurrected Jesus, walking unrecognized with his two disciples on the road to Emmaus said, "These are My words which I spoke to you while I was still with you, that all things which are written about Me in the Law of Moses, and the Prophets, and the Psalms must be fulfilled." (Luke 24:44).  The Psalms point to the Messiah, Christ Jesus.  It is the most often quoted Old Testament book in the New Testament, occurring over 400 times. 

The Hebrew name for this book is Tehillim, ("praise songs"); the Septuagint (Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures) named it Psalmoi from the Hebrew word mizmor (“melody with instruments”).  English translators transliterated the Greek title to "Psalms".

Placed in the heart of the Bible, this collection of 150 Mizmors was written over 900 years, by many songwriters, of whom David, known as a “man after God’s own heart” was most prolific, composing half of them.  Grouped in 5 collections reflecting the 5 books of Torah (Law of Moses), each section ends with a doxology and culminates in a final grand doxology (Psalm 150).   For a people of an oral tradition, singing is an excellent way to learn, remember, and teach.  Inspired by the Spirit of God, these Psalms, often sung responsively, reveal that God loves music and relationship.  Zephaniah 3:17 declares, "The LORD your God is in your midst, a victorious Champion. He will exult over you with joy, He will quiet you in His love, He will rejoice over you with joyful singing.”

The beauty of the Psalms flows from their elegant conciseness, rhyme, meter, word play, use of parallelisms, and vivid imagery.  Appreciating the types of parallelism help us understand the Psalms:  

  • synonymous - the thought of the first line is repeated in the following line (e.g., Psalm 24:1-3),
  • antithetic - the second line expresses a contrasting thought compared to the first line (e.g., Psalm 1:6; 37:9), 
  • synthetic - the second line explains or expands the thought expressed in the first line (e.g., Psalm 19:7-9),
  • climactic - the second line completes the thought of the first line (e.g., Psalm 29:1). 
  • Imagery employing simile or metaphor from everyday life makes each Psalm memorable and offers insight into our own hearts.  Psalm 1 uses a simile comparing the blessed one to “a tree planted by rivers of water”; the ungodly are “like chaff which the wind blows away”.  Psalm 23 employs the metaphor of the LORD as our Good Shepherd who is the reason we need not fear evil.

    Jesus grew up singing the Psalms in everyday life.  He would have sung the Psalms of Ascents (120-134) three times a year as His family went up to Jerusalem to celebrate the required feasts.  Jesus used the Psalms to teach about the Kingdom of Heaven and how to be blessed (Psalm 37:11, Psalm 41:1, Psalm 24:3,4, Psalm 51:10), connecting Psalm 1 with the Beatitudes.  He quoted from Psalm 118:22, 23 when the chief priests and elders of the people questioned His authority.  Using Psalm 110:1, He turned the tables on the Pharisees and Scribes who were testing Him (Matt 22:44).  He quoted Psalm 22:1 while dying on the cross for our sins, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken me?”    

     Dr Ralph Wilson, author of a thoughtful interactive online 12 week commentary on the Psalms says, “The Book of Psalms represents a rich tapestry of prayer and praise. Some psalms reflect a texture of deep despair, others glow with a deep peace in the Lord's strength, still others bubble with an exuberant exaltation of the Most High God. They cover the range of human emotion and experience.  What they all have in common is prayer, a reaching out to God from every imaginable experience.”

    The imprecatory psalms even allow for cursing of God’s enemies.  Bible scholar Allen Ross wrote, "Of all the books in the Old Testament the Book of Psalms most vividly represents the faith of individuals in the Lord... Saints of all ages have appropriated this collection of prayers and praises in their public worship and private meditations."

    Athanasius of Alexandria in the 4th century staunchly defended the faith against the heretical teaching of Arius, and championed the Nicene Creed.  He wrote an insightful Letter to Marcellinus on the Psalms.  His metaphors for the Psalms as a healing garden, a mirror to one’s soul, and a tutor on how to behave and speak in the presence of the Most High, inspire me to know the Psalms more intimately.  

    He wrote, “So then, my son, let whoever reads this Book of Psalms take the things in it quite simply as God-inspired; and let each select from it, as from the fruits of a garden, those things of which he sees himself in need. For I think that in the words of this book all human life is covered, with all its states and thoughts, and that nothing further can be found in man. For no matter what you seek, whether it be repentance and confession, or help in trouble and temptation or under persecution, whether you have been set free from plots and snares or, on the contrary, are sad for any reason, or whether, seeing yourself progressing and your enemy cast down, you want to praise and thank and bless the Lord, each of these things the Divine Psalms show you how to do...”

    Athanasius continues, “in every case the words you want are written down for you, and you can say them as your own...And, among all the books, the Psalter has certainly a very special grace, a choiceness of quality well worthy to be pondered; for, besides the characteristics which it shares with others, it has this peculiar marvel of its own, that within it are represented and portrayed in all their great variety the movements of the human soul... Elsewhere in the Bible you read only that the Law commands this or that to be done, you listen to the Prophets to learn about the Savior's coming, or you turn to the historical books to learn the doings of the kings and holy men; but in the Psalter, besides all these things, you learn about yourself. You find depicted in it all the movements of your soul, all its changes, its ups and downs, its failures and recoveries...”

    Psalms 1 (only 6 verses) and 2 (12 verses) open the Psalms as a complementary pair that begin and end in blessing.  Psalm 1 introduces the grand biblical theme of opposing pairs: 2 masters (Father of Truth vs. Father of Lies), 2 peoples (godly vs. ungodly), 2 ways of living (bondservant of God vs. slave of sin), and 2 destinations (eternal life vs. eternal damnation).  Psalm 2 introduces the other grand theme of the entire Bible--the Royal Messiah who obeys God’s will even to death, to save His people and make all things new with the power of His resurrection.  Both Psalms indicate man’s responsibility to trust and obey God.  

    Psalm 1 declares blessing on the individual who avoids associating with progressively ungodly people, delighting instead in the Law of the LORD.  “Do not be misled: ‘Bad company corrupts good character.’” (1 Cor 15:33).  Psalm 2 warns all peoples, especially their leaders, who conspire to cast off God’s Law, His authority over their affairs.  The LORD rebukes their rebellion with deep displeasure, prophesying of His Anointed Son, who will establish an everlasting Kingdom in fulfillment of His covenant with King David.  When Jesus declared, “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life, no one comes to the Father except through Me” (John 14:6), He was fulfilling these Psalms.  Only in this Son, the Incarnate Word of God, is blessing found.  

    Psalm 1 reveals that God wants us to live righteously by delighting in His Law.   Psalm 2 warns those who cast off God’s Law of what they have coming.  There will be a judgement and a separation of the godly from the ungodly.  God’s way for those who delight in His Law, meditating on it day and night, is the way of Shalom (peace, wholesomeness, fruitfulness, blessing others, becoming all we were designed to be for the praise of His glory, prospering the Name of God).  This Law keeps him from becoming cursed in a downward spiral of walking in counsel with, then standing in sin with, then finally sitting and mocking with those who have no regard for God.  Both Psalms reveal God’s omniscience, omnipotence, mercy and righteous judgement to come. 

    Psalm 1 starts with the blessed and ends with the ungodly who perish; Psalm 2 starts with those who rebel against God and ends with those who trust in the Son of God, and are blessed.  As in Deuteronomy, God uses both Psalms to proclaim a blessing and a curse depending on whether there is love for God, and walking with Him in trust and obedience.  

    The Psalms abound with exclamations of how blessed is the individual and the people who trust in the LORD:

    Psalm 32:1,2  How blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered.  How blessed is the man to whom the LORD does not impute iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no deceit.  

    Psalm 33:12  How blessed are the people whose god is the LORD, the kin-folk He has chosen  for His treasured possession.

    Psalm 34:8  O taste and see that the LORD is good; how blessed is the man who trusts in Him!

    Psalm 40:4  How blessed is that man who makes the LORD his trust, and does not respect the proud, nor those who turn aside to lies.

    Psalm 41:1,2  How blessed is he who considers the poor, the LORD will deliver him in time of trouble.  The LORD will preserve him and keep him alive, he will be blessed on the earth.

    Psalm 65:4  How blessed is the one You choose, and bring near to dwell in Your courts.  We shall be satisfied with the goodness of Your house, Your holy temple.

    Psalm 112: 1,2  Hallelujah! How blessed is the man who fears the LORD, who delights greatly in His commandments.  His descendants will be mighty on earth; the generation of the upright will be blessed.

    Psalm 118:26a  How blessed is he who comes in the name of the LORD!

    Psalm 119:1-4  How blessed are the blameless in the way, who walk in the law of the LORD!  How blessed are those who keep His testimonies, who seek Him with the whole heart.  They also do no iniquity; they walk in His ways.  You have commanded us to keep Your precepts diligently.

    Psalm 128:1-4  How blessed is every one who fears the LORD, who walks in His ways.  When you eat the labor of your hands, you shall be blessed, and it shall be well with you.  Your wife shall be like a fruitful vine in the very heart of your house, your children like olive plants all around your table.  Behold, thus shall the man be blessed who fears the LORD.

    The Psalms belong to us to sing daily unto the LORD and be equipped for our noble calling. 1 Peter 2:5,9 is God’s fulfillment of Exodus 19:5,6...”chosen by God and precious, a spiritual family, a holy priesthood...a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people proclaiming the praises of Him who called (them) out of darkness into His marvelous light.”  As His special chosen and redeemed people, our spontaneous response to His love is to exude His praises with overflowing joy.  Many will say, “But I don’t know how to sing, or how to pray.”  Don’t worry, “He knows our frame, He remembers that we are dust” (Psalm 103:14).   The Author and Perfector of our faith, has inspired the Psalter to provide us with a very special treasure, embedded in the heart of the Bible. 

    I continue to pray that this young lady will discover the joy of the LORD, who is drawing her, singing His Psalms to her, changing her heart from stone to flesh, freeing her from bondage into the freedom of His kingdom of light, that she may sing His praises and love Him, obeying His Word and walking in His way.   I believe the LORD is redeeming her life from the pit and renewing a right spirit within her through the Psalms. "The law of the LORD is perfect, reviving the soul; the testimony of the LORD is sure, making the simple wise." (Psalm 19:7). . .Soli Deo gloria.

    Dr. Sayson is an internal medicine doc who had a successful private practice for 15 years. After making a number of overseas medical mission trips, he realized the same needs in his home city of Portland, OR and started Good News Community Health Center in 2005. Dr. Bob likes to say that he used to practice internal medicine, but now practices eternal medicine. Bob and his family live in Gresham, OR.

    Recently during CCHF’s week of prayer, a Divine appointment brought an ill-looking young lady to Good News Community Center in Portland, for treatment of open skin abscesses.  She was referred by our local hospital, having no medical insurance or means to pay.  Her heroin addiction had led to the loss of her job, her home, and the  custody of her 3 year old daughter. She had recently been released from jail, while her boyfriend remained incarcerated.  A broken relationship with her mother who lived close by left her couch-surfing with acquaintances still on drugs.  Abused in childhood, she felt neglected all her life, with no spiritual foundation.  As we looked eye to eye, I was moved with compassion for her, touched by her loneliness and pain. I offered our help to secure housing and regain custody of her daughter. She said she would get back to me, and appreciated our care of her wounds, the prayer, and especially the Bible offered.  Clutching it close to her bosom, and smiling timidly to hide decaying teeth, she said that she had started reading the Psalms while in jail.