Summary: To lift us up from times like these and to give us a renewed perspective, God gave us poetry, especially the Psalms, that reflects on His kindness, His steadfast love.
Opening Statement: So many times after the holiday’s, a little thing called discouragement sets in. It’s the gray slush of winter. Like a dreaded disease, it gnaws away at our insides. We are all subject to the currents of discouragement that can sweep us into a danger zone. Even the most positive people can get discouraged.
Illustration: Former heavy-weight boxer James (Quick) Tillis is a cowboy from Oklahoma who fought out of Chicago in the early 1980’s. He still remembers his first day in the Windy City after his arrival from Tulsa. “I got off the bus with two cardboard suitcases under by arms in downtown Chicago and stopped in front of the Sears Tower. I put my suitcases down, and I looked up at the Tower and I said to myself, ‘I’m going to conquer Chicago.’ “When I looked down, the suitcases were gone.”
Transition: We all get discouraged over unfortunate things that happen like this and we end up being haunted by our loneliness, our failures, by our inability to be the people we would like to be. To lift us up from times like these and to give us a renewed perspective, God gave us poetry, especially the Psalms, that reflects on His kindness, His steadfast love.
Quotation: Martin Luther prefaced his 1528 translation of Psalms with these words: A human heart is like a ship on a wild sea, driven by the storm winds from the four corners of the world. Here it is stuck with fear and worry about impending disaster; there comes grief and sadness because of present evil. Here breathes a breeze of hope and of anticipated happiness; there blows security and joy in present blessings. These storm winds teach us to speak with earnestness, to open the heart and pour out what lies at the bottom of it.
Book Introduction: The Book of Psalms is a collection (anthology) of songs compiled into 5 books written over a thousand year period (c. 1410 to 430 B.C), beginning with the Exodus and concluding with the return of the exiles from Babylon. While there are many authors to the Psalms (Sons of Korah , Sons of Asaph , Heman, Ethan, Solomon, Moses, and anonymous writers [50 Psalms]), the bulk of the Psalms (73) were written during the United Kingdom era by King David himself.
Amplification: The Book of Psalms is quoted more times in the New Testament than any other book, with the exception of Isaiah. Not only did other Biblical writers enjoy this book, but the fact that the Psalms are so often appended to copies of the New Testaments in America indicates that we English readers have come to love this book.
Sermon Series Intention: I would like for us to pick some selected Psalms over the next several weeks that I pray God will use to speak to our hearts.
I. Introduction - How to Read Biblical Poetry
A. Notation: In order to put you in a better position to appreciate and use the Psalms both in your personal life, and also in the life of the church, I’d like us to note some things to keep in mind when reading the Psalms.
1. Each Psalm has it’s own historical setting. Understanding the author’s world and reason for writing unlocks the meaning. Some of the Psalms (116 of them) have superscriptions (added by an editor) that give you the historical setting or some kind of instruction.
2. Remember that Hebrew poetry does not rhyme. Hebrew writers tend to parallel ideas and images rather than words.
3. Biblical poetry should be enjoyed rather than dissected and analyzed. Don’t scrutinize every noun or verb. Don’t try to find some hidden meaning in every word or phrase. Poetry is meant to stir our souls and lift our hearts in broad strokes, much like an artist. I have a book of paintings by Norman Rockwell. Every time I look at it, he stirs up within me everything special about the American experience. Biblical poetry stirs up within us that which is special about an encounter or experience with God.
4. Miscellaneous things: The Psalms are loaded with figures of speech. Hyperbole, similes and metaphors are plentiful. The Psalms are not arranged in any specific order. They stand alone. You don’t have to read them in the order that they appear. The Psalms come in many different styles. There are: Celebration Psalms ; Messianic Psalms; Lament (Complaint) Psalms ; Praise Psalms ; Thanksgiving Psalms ; Pilgrimage Psalms; Wisdom Psalms ; Imprecatory Psalms ; Trust Psalms.
5. The Psalms were designed to be a literary sanctuary. The whole book was like a temple, a sanctuary where intimate expressions of personal dialogue with God could take place. Psalm 1 functions as the doorkeeper to the sanctuary. It was intentionally placed in its present canonical position in order to introduce the book. It functions as a "doorkeeper" to keep out the wicked. At the end of the book, we have five doxological Psalms (Ps. 146-150) that are characterized by exuberant praise! The Psalms provide sanctuary from evil.