Cultivate: Growing in Grace through the Psalms #1 (Psalms of Wisdom)

On June 16, 2015 I began a six week series on Psalms, with a view to look at Psalms by individual category so those in attendance could learn about using the Psalms for personal prayer and worship. These notes contain the series introduction and teaching about wisdom psalms.

Quite a number of years ago, I heard from a saint who was older and wiser than I was that a wise devotional practice was to take time to read regularly through both the Psalms and the Proverbs – and how by reading five Psalms a day or one Proverb a day, I would read through each book once per month – so I began that practice; and having done this as much as possible, I’ve found over the years that that practice has been extremely rewarding in more ways than one.

The Psalms is the worship song book of the people of God, and because it is, the Psalms teach us how to worship God in both personal, as well as corporate, worship;

Because the Psalms are the prayer manual of the people of God, spending much time in the Psalms has a way of teaching us to pray – and that, in all circumstances we might face as we journey, as Christ’s followers, through the clay idol of this world toward the Celestial City;

Since the book of Psalms is the praise manual of the people of God, we learn from them what the proper praise of God looks like – with the result that we grow into a people who quickly offer praise to the one being in the universe who is worthy of all praise – and as we learn to be praisers of God, we learn at the same time one of the ways by which we live well before Him. For He delights in the praises of His people.

Let me tell you one other things about the Psalms as the praise manual of God’s people. The Psalms are powerful encouragers (at least for me). I don’t often open up about the fact that I struggle – and sometimes deeply – with despair and with depression – but I do – not as badly as I used to, but I still do fight those two enemies; and I’m learning that one of the most sure remedies for me, whenever I find myself in what Bunyan called the Slough of Despond, is to pick up the scriptures, open to the Psalms and just read several of them, slowly. What I have found, when I do this, is that my heart will often lighten, and I may begin to praise God for stuff – and since we also know from scripture that God inhibits the praises of His people, it’s seems He often draws near to me – and I usually get up lighter and more encouraged, despite what I may be dealing with at the time.

No doubt, the Psalms teach us the all sufficiency of God and how He and He alone is the Rock and the fortress of His people, while revealing to us how to rightly approach Him in life’s many and various situations.

As I was preparing for our series together, I took some time to read through John Calvin’s introduction to the Psalms, from his commentary series and found much good from his introduction.. Let me share a bit of what Calvin wrote, 457 years ago next month (he wrote the intro to Psalms in July 1557):

“Calvin called the Psalms “An Anatomy of All Parts of the Soul”, because “there is not an emotion of which one can be conscious of, that is not represented to us, as in a mirror. He went on to write, “The Holy Spirit has here drawn to the life all the griefs, sorrows, fears, doubts, hopes, cares, perplexities, in short all the distracting emotions with which the minds of men are [prone] to be agitated with. And while other parts of scripture contain God’s commands and instructions, here in the Psalms we have the writers themselves “laying open all their inmost thoughts and affections…”; and these “call, or rather draw each of us to the examination of ourselves in particular, in order that none of the many infirmities to which we are subject, or the many vices with which we abound, may remain concealed.”

Calvin continues, “Genuine prayer proceeds first from a sense of our need, and next, from faith in the promises of God. It is by perusing these inspired compositions that people will be most effectually awakened to a sense of their maladies and at the same time instructed in seeking their remedies for a cure. In a word, whatever may serve to encourage us when we are about to pray to God, is taught us in this book.”

What are some of the characteristics of the Psalms? Here are some interesting facts:

Title: In our English Bibles, the book has the title “PSALMS’, though it is titled a bit differently in the Hebrew texts; and this title come from a Greek word referring to ‘the plucking of strings’, referring to songs sung to the accompaniment of stringed instruments, such as the harp, or the lyre, or the guitar.

The book of Psalms is the longest of the 66 books of scripture. It contains 150 chapters. In addition, both the shortest and the longest chapters in the Bible are found in the Psalms, with Psalm 117 containing two verse and Psalm 119, containing 176 verses.

The scriptures as a whole – the 66 canonical books – contain a total of 1,189 chapters – and this makes Psalm 117 the very center chapter of the scriptures. Also, Psalm 118: 8 is in the center of the 31, 173 verses of the whole Bible.

Unlike most Bible books, Psalms is written by multiple individual authors, whereas most other books have a single author. Here’s a breakdown:

a) David the King being responsible for 75 Psalms, which is more Psalms than any other author. In addition to David:
b) Asaph, a priest and worship leader wrote 12 Psalms (50; 73-83);
c) The sons of Korah from the next grip of authors, and are credited with ten Psalms (42; 44-49; 84-85; 87);
d) Solomon wrote two Psalms (Psa. 72 and 127);
e) Moses wrote one Psalm (Psa. 90);
f) Heman is credited with one Psalm, Psa. 88. He was a son of Korah and founder of the Korahite choir (2 Chr. 5: 12; 35:15;
g) Ethan wrote one Psalm – Psa. 89;
h) The other 48 Psalms were written by unknown authors – but many believe that at least one, Psalm 119, was written by Ezra the scribe.

These authors wrote Psalms from about 1445-1405 BC (in the case of Moses and Psalm 90) to between 500 to 430 BC (in the case of Psalm 126), which is the most recent Psalm.

Before we move into looking at one particular type of Psalm, let me give you three more bullet points by way of introduction.

Psalms is the most quoted OT book, by the NT authors, than any other OT book – with 112 of the 360 OT quotes or OT allusions coming from Psalms. One example of of how the NT writers used the Psalms is found in Romans 3: 1-20, where in that twenty verse portion of scripture alone, Paul quotes from Psalm 51, 14, 4, 140, and 36, as well as one quote from Proverbs and one from Isaiah.

The book of Psalms contains more direct messianic prophecies in Psalms than in any other OT book with the possible exception of Isaiah.

And finally, the individual Psalms can be categorized under one of seven Psalm types. Let me give you each Psalm type. Then what I want to do, as come together each week, if to look at one particular type of Psalm generally – then we will take a single Psalm from the type we are looking at on that particular evening and study that particular Psalm – and the, week to week, we will have a time of practical application, where you will have a chance to practice what we are learning together.

Types of Psalms: There are seven different types of Psalms:

Wisdom Psalms (which we will look at in more detail tonight) are instructive. These Psalms teach us how to live wisely before God, and they reveal something of God’s will for us. Examples are Psalm 1, Psalm 37 and Psalm 119;
Royal Psalms are Psalms that teach us truth about the Messiah – so sometimes these Psalms are named Messianic. These Psalms give specifics about Messiah. They are prophetic, looked forward to Messiah’s coming, and often predicted detail about his suffering, while speaking of His reign. Psalm 2, 20, 21, 110, 118 are examples;
Enthronement Psalms are like Royal Psalms, but speak of God’s total rule and control over all his creation. These Psalms give us detail about God’s providence over his universe. Examples are Psalm 96 to 99);
Lament Psalms are one of the most common types of Psalm, and are often the ones we can relate to the best. Lament Psalms focus on the writers troubles, trails, failures, fears, trouble and pain, while calling on God for deliverance. Some examples are Psalm 22 or 130;                                                                                                                                                                                  Imprecatory Psalms are what I would call Psalms of divine revenge or retribution. In an imprecatory psalm, the psalmist is calling on God to avenge him or avenge Israel by bringing judgement, wrath and punishment on enemies. Psalm 35, 55, 58, 59 and 109 are examples of imprecatory Psalms.
Thanksgiving Psalms need no definition really. These are Psalms of Thanks, which express gratitude to God for his many benefits, both nationally and individually (Psalm 8, 18, 19, 29, 103 to 106, and 117 are examples; and finally
Pilgrimage Psalms are Psalms of worship and praise, which were sung by Israel as the traveled up to Jerusalem to celebrate their annual feasts. Examples are Psalm 43; 46; 48; 76; 84; 87 and 120 to 130.

Wisdom Psalms:

By definition, a Wisdom Psalm is a Psalm that teaches us how to live wisely before God. Put directly, Wisdom Psalms have a single purpose – they teach us how to live righteously before God, and as we seek to now and do His will

As I mentioned earlier, Psalm 1, Psalm 37 and Psalm 119 are very clearly, Wisdom Psalms. Wisdom Psalms provide for us a double feature. Wisdom Psalms teach us how to live righteously before God and because they focus this, they at the same time give us insight into the very character of God – for we can’t know what please God without at the same time knowing Him and His very own qualities.

Psalm 119, which is the longest Psalm and the longest chapter in the Bible, gives us a picture of “the man after God’s own heart – taking God as His portion, associating with His people, and delighting and feeding upon His Word

Psalm 37 lays out very, very clear instruction about how people of faith in God should conduct themselves in this world, in relation to anger, worry, the wicked, the wicked plots, their prosperity, temptation to evil, God’s love for a care of the righteous, and promised salvation. Read Psalm 37.

Psalm 1 is another of the wisdom Psalms. Read Psalm 1.

What is the focus of Psalm 1 ?

This Psalm has a very clear focus. It seems that what the divine writer does in Psalm 1 is lay down a contrast – between the wicked and the righteous. But, the writer does something else, that is far more significant. The Hebrew word for man (ish) models a representative example of a man who is godly – and the Psalm shows brings multiple blessings to the person of faith in God.

Blessed is plural, and communicates blessednesses; and the key to blessednesses is to walk, stand and sit under the council of God;s Word instead of walking, standing, sitting in the counsel of the wicked, the sinner, the scoffer. This is the key to key to blessedness (vs. 1-2).

What does it mean to meditate?

Does the Psalmist really mean, day and night? There is a parallel found in Deut. 6: 4-12 – and there are two truths implied here. First, the law of the Lord was to be ever before God’s people – in their hearts, their minds, their conversations, waking up, lying down, while eating, while walking outs side – all the time; and Psalm 1 is saying the exact same thing in other words. That’s the first lesson. The second lesson (vs. 12) is this: Forgetting God happens when we forget or fail to saturate with His Word, and forgetting His Word is to forget HIM.

Now, to delight in and meditate in God’s Word day and night – to make it an integral part of our lives, brings a result (vs. 3). What is the result?
1st, fruit in season, stability in this life and spiritual prosperity;

2nd, the ability to stand on the day of judgement (implied by vs. 4 and 5), when the wicked will NOT stand.

Because the Lord LOVES the way of the righteous but the way of the wicked will perish.

The Psalm teaches us the wisdom of walking in the ways of God as explained in His Word, as over against the folly of walking in the council of the ungodly, standing in the way of sinners, sitting in the place of scoffers. Thus, it is classified as a Psalm of Wisdom.

1st, the Psalm shows us a way of life that brings blessing, and a way of life that doesn’t.

2nd, the Psalm calls us to delight in the ‘law of the Lord’, that is, in His Word.

3rd, the Psalm promises fruitful life to those who heed it’s instruction

4th, the Psalm promises prosperity and vitality in our lives before God

5th, the Psalm wants the wicked of impending judgement

6th, the Psalm affirms the Lord’s love for the righteous

In summary, we can say of this Psalm that , “This whole Psalm offers itself to be drawn into these two opposite propositions: a godly [person] is blessed, a wicked [person] is miserable; which seem to stand as two challenges, made by the prophet: one, that he will maintain a godly [person] against all comers, to be the only Jason to win the golden fleece of blessedness; the other, that albeit the ungodly make a show in the world of being happy, yet they are of all men most miserable” (quote from Richard Baker, 1640, in Spurgeon’s Treasury of David, Vol. 1, pg 4).

So, how would one use this Psalm for personal prayer and worship?

We can use this prayer in personal worship and prayer, by requesting that God, in His grace, make us men and women who live after the pattern the Psalmist lays down. We can also pray for wisdom to recognize and to avoid the behaviors that Psalm reveals as unwise.

How does walking in the council of the ungodly appear in a persons life? What form does it take? How does one stand in the way of sinners? What draws me to sit in the scoffers seat? Do I have leanings in any of those directions in my life? What dangers am I in? How can I avoid these patterns of behavior?

We can thank God that He has given us a sure pattern for wise living.

And we might praise God for His grace to empower us to walk opposite to the Psalmists warnings, by asking Christ, by His Spirit, to empower us to only walk in the council of the godly, to only stand in the way of the righteous, and to only take our place with those who excel in having the high praises of God on their lips and words of encouragement in their hearts for others and for us.

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