Summary: "My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?" Jesus' terrible cry on the cross is answered in Psalm 22.
For Sermon Central researchers: I have posted a series of 15 sermons on the Psalms. In recent personal studies I have found the psalms to be richer and more thought-provoking than I had fully appreciated. I had too often swept swiftly through psalms without slowing down to inquire as thoroughly as I might have into the depths of meaning and feeling that are expressed by the psalmists. Upon deeper examination and reflection, I find the psalms to be highly relevant to Christians in every age. My most recent foray into the psalms led me to present a series of studies of selected psalms in a class environment.
In my classes I did not examine every psalm, or every verse of the ones I did. Rather, I presented selected psalms that I believe to be representative of the collection in the book of Psalms. The studies were held in a class environment suitable for pauses for questions and discussion, and to pose “thought questions” where the meanings are not readily apparent, as is often the case in poetry. My notes include suggested points for such pauses, and I have not removed them in Sermon Central posts.
I developed the material with the view in mind that the series may be well used as sermons. There is an introductory sermon that describes what psalms are (whether they are in the 150-chapter book or elsewhere) and explains my approach to the series. The psalms I selected were presented in no particular order in the classes; however, I suggest that anyone using this material as a series begin with the introductory sermon and follow it with Psalms 1 and 2 in that order, as the first two psalms function as a pair. Beyond that, the selected psalms may be presented in any order.
To get as much enjoyment as we could from our study, I did some of the reading from the KJV, which I believe is the most beautiful of the English bible translations. For clarity we also used other versions, mainly ESV, which I have used for several years and the one I have come to prefer.
Today we are in the Psalms. The Psalms are a unique book. In the Hebrew bible, the book as a whole is not named. However, the content suggests it as an appropriate description.
There are some psalms in other books of the bible, some of them practically matching verbatim those that are in the book of Psalms.
The Psalms are written entirely as poetry, suitable for singing.
In fact many – if not all – of the psalms were sung.
Poetry in the bible
Mark Wenger (professor Columbia International University in South Carolina) wrote a paper on Poetry in the Bible. He wrote: “Over 8,600 of the verses of the Bible are poetry – nearly 27% of all the verses in scripture. Only seven books of the Bible have no clear poetry within them. One book in the Old Testament lacks poetry; Esther is a narrative without poetry, unusual in ancient literature. In the OT, more than 8200 verses of the Old Testament’s 23,000+ verses are, quite plainly, poetry (slightly more than 35%).”
Poetry lends itself to memorization.
In Junior High School I memorized a portion of William Cullen Bryant’s poem Thanatopsis. That was about 68 years ago, and I can still quote that passage from memory:
So live, that when thy summons comes to join
The innumerable caravan, which moves
To that mysterious realm, where each shall take
His chamber in the silent halls of death,
Thou go not, like the quarry-slave at night,
Scourged to his dungeon, but, sustained and soothed
By an unfaltering trust, approach thy grave,
Like one who wraps the drapery of his couch
About him, and lies down to pleasant dreams.
Invictus, by William Ernest Henley: Ends with this memorable verse:
It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.
Memorization, assisted by the form of poetry, was helpful in a time when written material could not be possessed in hard copy by everyone. Perhaps that accounts for the amount of scripture that is written in verse. For example, the Magnificat, Mary’s outpouring of praise upon learning of Elizabeth her relative’s pregnancy, confirming the words of the angel’s visit in Nazareth, are written in verse – not rhyming verse, but clearly, we have them in poetic form. I have no idea whether Mary expressed them that way at the very first, or the Holy Spirit, in giving them to Matthew, delivered them as poetry. But poetry they are. Most English translations recognize this in Luke 1:46-55.
In old England the book of Psalms was sometimes printed separately from the rest of the bible.