Cultivate: Growing in Grace through the Psalms #4 (Imprecatory Psalms)


As we read through the Psalms, we inevitably come across some that have requests of God, requesting him to do bad things to people. These may be requests for justice, or for vengeance, they may be requests for protection, and they may be prayed to God about individuals, or about national enemies.

Consider Psalm 140: 1-3, 8-11, as an example. The Psalmist says to God: Deliver me, O LORD, from evil men; preserve me from violent men, who plan evil things in their heart and stir up wars continually. They make their tongues sharp as a serpent’s and under their lips is the venom of asps….and the, starting in verse 8, Grant not, O LORD, the desires of the wicked; do not further their evil plot, or they will be exalted.

As for the head of those who surround me, let the mischief of their lips overwhelm them! Let burning coals fall upon them! Let them be cast into fire and not miry pits, no more to rise! Let not the slanderer be established in the land; let evil hunt down the violent man speedily!

Psalm 10: 2, 15 is another example: In arrogance, the wicked hotly pursue the poor; let them be caught in the scheme they have devised….Break the arms of the wicked and the evildoer; call his wickedness to account until you find none.

In Psalm 137 we have the Psalmist praying or singing, Oh daughter of Babylon, doomed to be destroyed, blessed shall he be who repays you with what you have done to us! Blessed shall he be who takes your little ones and dashes them again the rock!

And finally, Psalm 69: 22-28 contains similar requests. There the Psalmist prays, Let their own table before them become a snare; and when they are at peace, let it become a trap. Let their eyes become darkened so they cannot see and make their loins tremble continually. Pour out your indignation upon them, and let your burning anger overtake them.

May their camp be desolation; let now one dwell in their tents. For they persecute him whom you have struck down and they recount the pain of those you have wounded.

Add to them punishment upon punishment; may they have no acquittal from you. Let them be blotted out of the book of the living; let them not be enrolled among the righteous.

Psalms such as these may cause some of us some discomfort; and they often raise questions in our minds such as, ‘What is up with this type prayer? What are Psalms like these about?”. To many 21st century followers of Jesus Christ, prayers for God to do bad things to people seem out of step with the ‘Spirit of Christ’, whose fruit is love, and contrary to He who was a friend of tax collectors and sinners. So, what IS going on in these Psalms?

I. Psalms such as these are classed as Imprecatory Psalms – and there are a number of these Psalms in the book of Psalms. What is an Imprecatory Psalm?

A. Defined, ‘to imprecate’ means to “pray evil against”, or “invoke a curse against”, and so these Psalm are called Imprecatory Psalms because the psalmist is praying evil against or evoking a curse on someone – and enemy, individual or national. The Psalmist is actually calling on God to avenge him or avenge Israel by bringing judgement, wrath and punishment on enemy nations or adversarial people.

B. Justified: Some might ask here, ‘Is this ok? Why would someone like King David pray this way? And since we are in a different age – since we live since Jesus came, lived, died and rose, are these prayers relevant for us today – or did they have something to do with the OT era only? Shouldn’t we be praying that everyone come to know Christ?These are fair questions.

One of the reasons many 21st century Christians struggle with Psalms such as these traces back to a common view of God, which is held by many in our day. In our day, many only see the love side of God – seeing His primary attribute as being universal love. But, the scriptures show us that though God is love (per 1 John 4: 7, 8) God is also just, righteous, holy and true – and while he loves His covenant people with an everlasting love and that love is steadfast, God also has enemies, called ‘the wicked’ in Scripture – and these show up on the pages of history and in our world as enemies of His people – or to put this another way, the friends of God’s people are friends of God and those who are against his covenant people are enemies of God. We see this throughout the OT. Consider a few examples:

a) Genesis 3: 14-15 – seed of the serpent is seen as an enemy of woman, to be defeated by her seed;
b) Genesis 12: 1-3 B – God will bless those who bless Abraham and will curse those who curse Abraham – meaning he, and His descendants. Thus, those who ‘curse Abram’ are considered enemies;
c) Exodus 8: 22-23 – God sees a difference between His (God’s) people and Egyptians. Thus, the Israelites land is spared the judgement of the plagues;
d) In Genesis 15: 13-16, it is recorded how God told Abraham that his descendants would be strangers in a land not theirs (meaning, Egypt) for 400 years and how God would judge the nation where they served, after which they would be brought back to Abraham’s land – the land of Canaan – because at the time of the promise to Abraham the ‘sin of the Amorites is not yet full’. Some four hundred years later, Israel was delivered from Egypt, and eventually arrived back at Canaan. Joshua was then commanded to go into Canaan and take over the lond, as it had been promised to Abraham. The book of Joshua gives account of this conquest and what we would call today, a genocide – a genocide carried out on the command of God because Canaanite civilization by this time had become so utterly wicked, that God wanted everyone destroyed. In other words, when Joshua entered Canaan with the armies of Israel, the sin of the Amorites WAS full. Looking honestly at this story, it is clear that due to sin, the Canaanites ad become God’s enemy – for sin is repulsive to Him. Thus, they became Israel’s enemy too.

During the OT period, it is clear that God showed favor to His covenant people, Israel, while viewing other nations as enemies. Many other scriptures show this. Does this attitude carry over to the NT period? Consider the following:

a) 2 Thess. 1: 5-10 suggests that in the NT era, the same is true as in the OT period;
b) 2 Peter 2: 1-16 has strong words about false teachers – and the whole of the 2nd chapter shows that these are at enmity with God. The are enemies of the truth, enemies of the church and therefore enemies of God.
c) Jude’s letter paints a similar picture. Jude verse 5-13 suggests that apostates are both depraved, and doomed, by God. Does this not suggest that these people are enemies of God?

In both the OT and NT, clearly some are God’s friends, while others are God’s enemies. Thus, the scriptures class people as righteous vs. wicked, as elect of God vs. non-elect, as those hardened vs. those chosen (see Romans 11: 7b). No wonder the scriptures say, ‘God loves the righteous, but the way of the wicked he will bring to ruin’.

Once we understand that there are both friends and enemies of God, and that enemies of God are enemies of His people and vice versa, then we have the foundation and basis behind Imprecatory Prayers – for these prayers are actually asking God to exact vengeance and judgement on the enemies of God’s King or upon the enemies of God’s people.

C. Several Psalms are identified as Imprecatory Psalms: Psalm 5, 7, 10, 17, 35, 40, 58, 59, 69, 70, 79, 83, 109, 129, 137, 140 are all Imprecatory Psalms to a greater or lesser extent.

II. Imprecatory Psalms Examined: Read through the three Imprecatory Psalms below and mark the verse or verses showing this is an imprecatory psalm:

A. Psalm 5: Read this short Psalm and mark out the part of the psalm that shows this is an Imprecatory Psalm (see vs. 5, 6, 9-10)
B. Psalm 55: What part or parts of this Psalm show it is an Imprecatory Psalm? (see 9, 15, 23)

C. Psalm 109: Find the parts of this Psalm that show it is an Imprecatory Psalm (see vs. 6-20)
III. Imprecatory Prayers Practiced: Should Jesus’s followers pray Imprecatory Psalms? I answer, yes, with a few conditions, which I list below:

1st, it is important to keep in mind that though these prayers may be prayed by Jesus’s followers, it is God who is judge and savior, while WE are saved by God’s grace alone, meaning apart from that grace we would not be a part of God’s people at all – and that attitude should keep us humble toward those who oppose us;

2nd, as we pray this type Psalm, there should be a gospel filter that we pray these Psalms through – because we live in a different era than the OT saints lived in; and the gospel filter should be a sincere desire to see people actually find the mercy and forgiveness of God, and be saved if at all possible, through the gospel;

3rd, the focus of Imprecatory Prayers was always against enemies of God, seeking Him for revenge, for justice, for retribution by and for His king or for His people. They were never prayed for personal vengeance, toward someone the Psalmist simply didn’t like; and the infraction which illicited the prayer, was generally really serious. This suggests when and where a church might pray Imprecatory Psalms – during times of legal, economic or physical persecution – not so much because people are coming against us as individuals but because they are standing up against Christ and against His cause;

4th, praying to the Father like this is a very serious thing to do – because God is alive, and powerful, and he does visit vengeance on the enemies of His people. It is important to keep in mind then, that this type praying was done in extreme situations. And at least for me, to consider praying like this is sobering and serious.

Cultivate: Growing in Grace through the Psalms #3 (Laments)

Thus far, I’ve looked at Wisdom Psalms and Royal Psalms. In this installment we consider a third type of Psalm, and that is, Psalms of Lament. For personal worship and prayer, he Psalms of Lament are, perhaps the most useful of the Psalms, because Lament Psalms touch on situations that are so common to most of our lives – and the definition of Lament Psalms bears this out.

I. What is a Psalm of Lament? Psalms of Lament are generally, psalms that were written and prayed because life is tough – so they speak to God while the writer/singer is in some sort of trouble. Psalms of Lament are to the prayer book of scripture what the Blues are to music – and they are this because in these psalms, the psalmist is crying out to God about fears, problems, sins, concerns, injustices, and seeking God for grace, help and deliverance. And we see this in the Psalm we just read.

There are quite a lot of Psalms of Lament – and some of them are also classed as other types, as well. Psalm 3, 4, 5, 6, 7; 12 and 13 are Lament Psalms.

Other Psalms of Lament are are listed on your outline and include 25-28; 35; 38-40; 42-44; 51, 54-57, 59-61; 63-64 and Psalm 69; 71; 74; 79; 80; 83; 85; 86; 88; 90; 102; 109; 120; 123; 130; 140–143.

Psalm 22 is also Messianic; Psalm 51 is also called a psalm of repentance – or a penitential Psalm along with Psalm 6, 32, 38, 102, 130 and 143; and Psalm 123 is both a Lament and a Psalm of Descent

Psalm 51’s background is given in the heading that appears before the Psalm. Take the time to read the Psalm and the subtitle. Note that the sub titles which are in bold before a Psalm were generally placed there by the translators – BUT, the captions which appear after the translators subheading and before the Psalm are a part of the original – and we gain insight into what Psalms that have these, were written.

Consider the subtitle of Psalm 51. From it we learn the psalm was written, sung and prayed as a prayer of confession after David seduced with Bathsheba, impregnated her, covered it up by having her husband killed and marrying her, only to have Nathan the prophet confront him with a message from God about his double injustice.

Psalms of Lament follow a certain structure – which identifies them as Laments. Ronald Allen, who I studied under at Western Seminary a number of years ago, shows there are three notable qualities of the Laments.

The first notable characteristic of these psalms has to do with how the kind of pronouns used. Psalms of Lament which use plural pronouns are classed Laments of the People, or Community Laments. Psalms 44, 60, 74, 80, 83, 85, 90, 123, and 137 are Laments of the People.

Question: Can you think of any particular way a Lament of the People – a Community Lament, might apply to specific situations today, in our own arena?

Laments of the individual, on the other hand, have singular pronouns – such as Psalm 3, 5, 6, 7, 13.

A second quality has to do with form. Lament Psalms are formed around six elements, in less or more regular sequence – 1) the introductory appeal; 2) the lament; 3) the confession of trust; 4); the petition; 5) the motifs that may justify divine intervention; 6) the vow of praise; and in some, there is a 7th element – a prophetic statement or utterance.

The third quality (and the one most important) of Lament Psalms is that no matter the intensity of the emotion and the depth of the issue faced by the Psalmist, they lead to praise – indicating the faith of the Psalmist that God is still the great treasure !!

II. Lament Psalms Considered: Take some time and read Psalm 22. Psalm 22 follows a very clear structure. The pattern is:

1st, a Cry for help – vs. 1

2nd, a Lament – notice the I/You pattern- vs. 2

3rd, a Confession of Trust – vs. 3-5

4th, another Lament – I/You – vs. 6-8

5th, another Confession of Trust – vs. 9-11

6th, another Lament, this time, with a they/I/you pattern – vs. 12-18

7th, a Petition – vs. 19-21 – Hear/Save

8th, a Vow of Praise – vs. 22-29

And finally, a Prophetic Utterance – vs. 30-31

Psalm 51 follows a similar pattern:

Vs. 1, 2 – Cry for help

Lament – vs. 3-6 (Notice the double I/You pattern – once in vs. 3,4 and again in vs. 5-6

Vs. 7-11 is the Petition

Vs. 12-19 – Vow of Praise

C. Lessons from Lament Psalms: There are many lessons for us in these Psalms of Lament.

1st, Lament Psalms show us that the writers of the psalms lived in the real world and faced real world problems like we do;

2nd, we learn how relevant prayer is to life’s trials, issues and problems; and how God wants to be approached, by us, with our trials and problems

3rd, Lament Psalms show how the proper default for those who trust our Lord is prayer in the midst of our trials; and they are this because the Psalmist knew the sufficiency of God in any and all of life’s issues;

4th, Lament Psalms teach us HOW to pray during trouble; and the penitential Psalms highlight the need for confession as they teach us how to rightly confess sin before God;

5th, they also show us how the Lord is trustworthy

6th, Laments Psalms teach us how to offer up praise, even in the midst of our troubles.

III. Praying the Psalms of Lament: In times of trouble, praying these Laments come quite naturally, if we have learned some go them by heart. I remember when I first landed in hospital during my illness back in 1998, how there was a single line from a Psalm running through my head, as my fever rose and fell, and as I became sicker and sicker – and the line that kept running through my head was:

“Out of the depths I cry to you Oh LORD! Oh Lord, hear my voice!!” These are the opening lines of Psalm 130 – which is a Psalm of Lament – and though I couldn’t remember the rest of the Psalm, that part – the cry for help – was in my mind and I was silently lifting it up to God.

Can you see ways you could pray laments during your own trials and troubles?

A. We can simply pray through a psalm and conform it to our own situation; or

B. We can sing some of these Psalms back to God as a form of prayer.

Laments Psalms are very practical as patterns for prayer, for they run the gamut of human problems. Next time you face a trial, a problem, or are struggling with besetting sin, pray through some of the Lament Psalms – for these Psalms are designed to help us pray more effectively, both in our private and corporate worship.

Cultivate: Growing in Grace through the Psalms #2 (Royal Psalms)

In my first session I covered the introduction to the Psalms and also looked at one category of Psalms – and we looked briefly at three wisdom psalms : Psalm 1, Psalm 37 and Psalm 119. In this second session, I’m considering a second psalm type – that of Royal, or Messianic, Psalms. What are Royal Psalms?

I. Royal Psalms, defined, are Psalms that have as their focus Israel’s Messiah; and from the perspective of the writers, the Psalms were future in their orientation. For us, this is not true for the most part – but for the writers it was like that.

Messianic or Royal Psalms teach specific truths about Messiah, particular to His incarnation, his rejection, his suffering, his victory his kingdom and his reign; AND, we see the Messiah’s three primary roles in the Royal Psalms. We see Israel’s Messiah as God’s Prophet, we see him as God’s Priest, and we see him as God’s King.

Psalms which are identified as Royal, or Messianic are Psalms like Psalm 2; 18; 20, 21, 22; 45; 47; 68; 72; 89; 101; 110; 118; 132 and 144. These are considered by most to be Royal Psalms – and some of them, like Psalm 2, or 22, or 110, or 118, make specific statements that found direct fulfillment in Jesus Christ while he was on earth, while many others simply speak about David’s region as King (Psalm 21 would be an example) but because David is seen as a type of Christ, the Psalm is classed as Royal.

Quotes from Royal Psalms often appear in the NT scriptures – and it is very interesting to see how the NT writers used OT scriptures to interpret their times generally, and also how they interpreted Royal Psalms in particular. Let me show you some examples of what I mean.

Example #1: Luke 20: 17, is a parable where Jesus is confronting the leaders of Israel over their rejection of him as Messiah. In the Parable (vs. 9-16) he paints them and their fate perfectly and pointedly. When he comes to the end of the parable, they are repulsed, and Matthew tells us that the Chief Priest and Pharisees perceived he was speaking about them. Then, Jesus quotes an OT verse – Psalm 118: 22. Why does he do that? Because he knew He was the stone that the builders were rejecting – but he also knew He would become the chief corner stone for what God was going building – his kingdom and his church. Thus, we say Psalm 118 is Royal.

Example #2: Luke 20: 41-44 – Jesus uses an OT scripture to ask the some of his opponents in Jerusalem a question; and the question proves too difficult for them, so they leave it unanswered. The scripture he references is from Psalm 110: 1 – so look there with me. Listen to and look at verse one. As you look at the verse, you will notice how the title ‘Lord’ is used two times. Question: Is Lord spelled the same way in Psalm 110: 1?

They’re not. The first is all capital letters and the second one is capital L followed by small letters, o r d. Why is that? LORD is the way english translators spell Lord, when the covenant name of God is used; and whenever we see ‘Lord’ we know another name for God is used in the original, in this case, Adonai. Based on this, do we have two gods? No – we have two persons of the Trinity identified as LORD and Lord – or, we could say, as we look at this fro a NT perspective, that we have the Father – the covenant God – speaking to the second person of the Trinity, the Word – about something that would happen future.
Now, look back at Luke 20: 41-44. On the backdrop of Psalm 110: 1, do you see what Jesus is getting at when he asks the question he asks? What this tells us is that Psalm 110 is a Messianic Psalm, AND we learn the first verse foreshadows the incarnation. That’s one reason the Psalm is called Royal.

Now, look at Psalm 110: 4. This verse is referenced again in Hebrews 5: 6, where the writer is showing Jesus as being a priest after the order of Melchizedek – which means Psalm 110: 4 references Messiahs superior priesthood. Thus, it is classed as Messianic, or Royal.

II. A Royal Psalm Considered: A third example of this is found in the Royal Psalm I want to look at with you in more detail tonight – Psalm 2. So, turn to the second Psalm. The first thing I want to do is simply to read the Psalm. So, listen to the Psalm in it’s entirety as I read it aloud – and see if you can identify markers that cause us to identify this as a Royal – a Messianic – Psalm.

This Psalm breaks down into four parts quite easily. What we have, by way of an outline structure is:

A. Overt Opposition of the World to God (vs. 1-3) Those outside God’s covenant/kingdom ALWAYS resist Him and rage against He and His rule. Why do they do so? Quite simply, people in their wickedness, choose their own vices, devices, and carnal pleasures over the easy yoke of God and Christ. This opposition sources in the magistrates, rulers, and statesmen – but it also comes from those much lower in society too. Further, they not only want to disobey – they want to totally abolish God’s rule and any institution that is loyal and in love with Him – be it Israel of old or the church today. That’s the first part of the Psalm. What follows this is :

B. Open derision and defiance of God – to His Opposers (vs. 4-6) Notice how this portion of the Psalm plays out. He who sits in the heavens LAUGHS and holds them in derision. THEN He will speak to them. What does he say? Notice verse 6. There is a play on words here. The nations set themselves against – the Lord has set his King on his holy hill. In other words, as the kingdoms and nations rage against God, God DOES what they resist – he sets up His king. This is then followed by an interesting event. And we may call that event the:

C. Overcoming Decree of the Son (vs. 7-9). The first person pronoun signifies a shift in speaker – and the person speaking is the one God identified as HIs begotten son – and to this begotten Son, a promise has been given, which the Son describes (vs. 8); followed by a clear statement of how the Son will oversee the nations and ends of the earth, once he comes to possess them.

The phrase, ‘rule them with a rod of iron’ is very informative, because it appears in both the OT and NT in relation to Jesus’s rule and reign as King – as Messiah. Let me show some examples of how the term or phrase is used. It appears conceptually in Isa. 11: 4; it appears here in Psalm 2; it appears three times in Revelation – in 2: 26-27 about Jesus’s followers who OVERCOME – in Rev. 12: 5 of the child Israel gives birth to – and finally in Rev. 19: 15, of Christ when he returns with power and great glory. So, if we didn’t have enough evidence that this is a Royal Psalm, the use of the phrase ‘rod of iron’ would convince us.

D. Open Invitation from the Father to Embrace the Son (vs. 10- 12) with blessing promised for those who embrace the Son, and total destruction for those who don’t.

The Psalm teaches us many lessons, but let me cover three quickly. This Psalm shows us why God’s work and His people are secure in this world, and why we can rest confidently that God’s plans will prosper regardless of what we see happening around us.

1st, we see from this Psalm how God’s people and plan is stable, because God establishes it Himself, while he laughs at mens attempts to stop his people and his plans and throw off his yoke.

2nd, we see that God’s plans are rooted in a covenant – decreed by God, involving His Son, for the redemption of the world – and this pan cannot be stopped, according to what the OT Prophets and the NT apostles and prophet tells us about it

3rd, with this decree, God promises his Son TOTAL VICTORY. So, that is Psalm two.

III. How would we go about praying this Psalm and using it in private worship? If we take the time to look at how the early church used it, we get some pretty good hints as to how we can use this Psalm as a catalyst for prayer and for personal worship.

Psalm 2: 1-2 is referenced in Acts 4: 25-26, as the cause for opposition to both Jesus and to His people preaching the resurrection of Christ from the dead. What this simply means is, in the same way the first century Christians identified those who were against them as fulfilling what was foretold in Psalm 2: 1-2, so they saw Jesus’s sufferings and their labors in the gospel as connected to this too – so they prayer in light of what God was doing.

Another way to put this would be to say, they interpreted opposition according to the sovereign plan of God, knowing that God would ultimately be victorious.

One way, therefore that we can pray this Psalm, is to pray it in relation to our own gospel mission here in SCC, as well as in relation to the mission of the gospel elsewhere.

Secondly, notice Psalm 2: 8. From this we see how the Son has an inheritance from the father – the nations – and the nations will either become subjects to His kingdom, OR they will be removed. This reminds me of another scripture in the NT where Jesus is teaching us to pray.

Compare Matthew 6: 9-10. Praying to the Father that His kingdom will come and his will be done on earth, as it is done in heaven, is EXACTLY the same thing as praying for the Son to receive the reward of his sufferings – the nations, as his inheritance.

Psalm 2 is a royal Psalm, like man others. And their use in prayer and worship focuses on Messiahs kingdom, his gospel, his victory, his rule. We can pray this Psalm, then, as we seek God to fulfill His whole will for the nations of the earth, from now until Jesus comes!!

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.

When the Nations Rage, Remember Who Really Rules


Doubtless, our day is a day of uncertainty. Mass shootings by individuals are common occurrences.  Jihadists spread terror in their quest to force their own brand of Islam on the peoples of the earth. Threats of war loom. Economies are unstable. Weather patterns shift. Earthquakes strike. Ebola threatens epidemics. Morality collapses. The foundations quake. Fear abounds. What can people do?

For me, Psalm 2 gives an answer. The Psalm starts with a question and a claim: Why do the nations rage and the peoples plot in vain? The kings of the earth set themselves and the rulers take counsel together against the LORD and against his Anointed, saying “Let us burst their bonds apart and cast their cords from us. Ultimately, all lawlessness is rebellion against God, an affront to His kingship, a rage against Him. His response comes quickly:

He who sits in the heavens laughs; the Lord holds them in derision. Then he will speak to them in his wrath, and terrify them in his fury, saying, “As for me, I have set my King on Zion, my holy hill.” Who is his King? When we compare Acts 4: 25-26 with this Psalm it becomes clear it is Christ Jesus. This Psalm is classed as Messianic – prophetically speaking of Israel’s Messiah. Since the first century CE – since Jesus came and rose from the dead – it is in process of being fulfilled. So there’s an end in view. What is it?

Simply, the nations will be no man’s possession, nor will Jihadists ever realize their goal. For the nations will be the Kings inheritance and the ends of the earth his possession – and he will rule them with a rod of iron (vs. 7-9). Thus, the warning, “Now therefore, O kings, be wise; be warned, O rulers of the earth. Serve the LORD with fear and rejoice with trembling. Kiss the Son, lest he be angry and you perish in the way, for his wrath is quickly kindled. 

In the face of our uncertain world, this Psalm helps me. It reminds me, when the nations rage, to remember the LORD really rules. Blessed are all those who take refuge in him.

Worship as Subversion

During the early centuries of the church Caeser-the head of the Roman state- was considered divine. It was therefore expected of citizens of the empire to give allegiance to Caeser and to the civil religion revolving around him. Jesus followers didn’t, however, and for this failure the early Christians were called atheists-godless-and persecutions came in waves.  On page 217 of his book Simply Jesus, N. T. Wright gives us insight into why. Wright observes:

“All kingdom work is rooted in worship. Or, to put it the other way around, worshipping the God we see at work in Jesus is the most politically charged act we can ever perform. Christian worship declares that Jesus is Lord and therefore, by strong implication, nobody else is. What’s more, it doesn’t just declare it as something to be believed, like the sun is hot or the sea is wet. It commits the worshipper to allegiance, to following this Jesus, to being shaped and directed by him. Worshipping the God we see in Jesus orients our whole being, our imagination, our will, our hopes and our fears away from the world where Mars, mammon, and Aphrodite (violence, money and sex) make absolute demands and punish anyone who resists. It orients us instead to a world in which love is stronger than death, the poor are promised the kingdom, and chastity (whether married or single) reflects the holiness and faithfulness of God himself. Acclaiming Jesus as Lord plants a flag that supersedes the flags of the nations, however ‘free’ or ‘democratic’ they may be. It challenges both tyrants who think they are, in effect, divine, and the “secular democracies” that have effectively become, if not divine, at least ecclesial in that they try to do and be what the church is to do and be, without recourse to the one who sustains the churches life. Worship creates-or should create, if it is allowed to be truly itself-a community that marches to a different beat, that keeps in step with a different Lord.”

Put another way, to proclaim Jesus as Lord, to worship him as Lord and to obey and follow His teachings is politically subversive, for to do so is to declare that Caesar, SCOTUS, or any other earthly power, AREN”T.

The implications of this are staggering!!

A Challenge to Devotion (from the life of Charles Simeon)

I’ve been reading an interesting biography by Handley Moule and a biographical sketch (which I’ve read once before) by John Piper on the life of a pastor of old, Charles Simeon (1759-1836). Simeon served Holy Trinity Church, Cambridge and Cambridge University for 54 years, and had a long a fruitful ministry. His years there were not without trial however.

John Piper, writing of Simeon’s life and ministry in a mini-bio titled Brothers, We Must Not Mind a Little Suffering, observes how, when Simeon began his tenure at Holy Trinity Church, “…the parishioners did not want Simeon. They wanted the assistant curate Mr. Hammond. Simeon was willing to step out, but then the Bishop told him that even if he did decline the appointment he would not appoint Hammond. So Simeon stayed…” 

His choice to remain despite not being wanted set into motion open opposition, of a significant kind. Piper continues, ” The first thing the congregation did in rebellion against Simeon was to refuse to let him be the Sunday afternoon lecturer. This was in their charge. It was like a second Sunday service. For five years they assigned the lecture to Mr. Hammond. Then when he left, instead of turning it over to their pastor of five years they gave it to another independent man for seven more years! Finally, in 1794, Simeon was chosen lecturer.”  This initial resistance had lasted 12 years.

In the midst of this long trial, “Simeon tried to start a later Sunday evening service and many townspeople came. But the churchwardens locked the doors while the people stood waiting in the street. Once Simeon had the doors opened by a locksmith, but when it happened again he pulled back and dropped the service. This was not all, however. “The second thing the church did was to lock the pew doors on Sunday mornings. The pew holders refused to come and refused to let others sit in their personal pews. Simeon set up seats in the aisles and nooks and corners at his own expense. But the churchwardens took them out and threw them in the churchyard. When he tried to visit from house to house, hardly a door would open to him. This situation lasted at least ten years (emphasis mine).

Eventually, Simeon over came the opposition. How did he do it? Again, Piper writes, “The records show that in 1792 Simeon got a legal decision that the pewholders could not lock their pews and stay away indefinitely. But he didn’t use it. He let his steady, relentless ministry of the word and prayer and community witness gradually overcome the resistance.” 

As I considered this amazing story of persistent, significant and focused resistance to Simeon’s preaching and pastoral ministry, met with persistent, significant and focused perseverance in ministry, I asked myself what Simeon’s secret for bearing up under these trials was. How did he keep on keeping on, in the face of such open and unfeigned hostility? Moule provides insight:

Behind all that was busy and public in his life he had striven from the first to ‘labour in secret prayer’…..Simeon invariably arose every morning, even though it was the winter season, at four o’clock; and after lighting his fire, he devoted the first four hours of the day to private prayer and the devotional study of the Scriptures. He would then ring his bell and calling his friend with his servant, engage with them in what he termed his family prayer. Here was the secret of his great grace and spiritual strength. Deriving instruction from such a source, and seeking it with such diligence, he was comforted in all his trials and prepared for every duty.” (emphasis added)

Considering these things, I’m challenged to devotion in several ways. First, though all pastoral ministry has it’s difficulties (and my time of service is no exception) the type difficulty I have faced is almost unworthy of mention compared to the trials Simeon faced-not for a few months only but for years on end. Reflecting on this aspect of Simeon’s life, I’m forced to shut my mouth, repent of the many times I’ve complained about my own light afflictions and how difficult it is to continue in ministry, and rejoice in the ease by which my own pastoral labors have unfolded.

Second, I’m challenged toward more purposed diligence in secret prayer. Now, my focus here is not so much on the time Simeon arose each day. That in itself is quite the challenge. Rather, the way he spent the first four hours of his days in secret prayer and devotional study of the Scriptures is greatly convicting. This man learned to live upon God-and his devotional practice reveals how he didn’t just preach Jesus as Lord, but actually lived as though Jesus was Lord in his private life. Knowing Jesus-being with God-praying in the Spirit-shaped his life, as he subordinated even sleep to his pursuit of the trinitarian God. It is no wonder he was empowered to persevere; and no wonder my small trials seem so large and tend to undo me. Frankly, I barely pray and I play at devotional study, compared to this man’s daily practice-and the results positively in his life and negatively in mine bear out our devotional differences.

Now, some might say that Simeon practiced this level of devotion because he was a cut above the average pastor or Christian. But to this, I must object. Simeon didn’t practice this level of devotion because he was some super saint as compared to all of us. Rather, Moule observes, “This early rising did not come naturally to him; it was a habit resolutely fought for and acquired.”  It was battle for him, a battle he fought with his comfort desiring flesh and won. And as he was enabled to win this battle, so might we be, by the same resolve and in the same grace, for the same cause-of knowing God, dwelling with Him and beholding His beauty, even here on earth, in the secret place.

To Charles Simeon, secret prayer for protracted periods per day, and the best hours of the day, was obviously not considered lost time. For many of us, the opposite is true. Is it any wonder that history attests to the power and long lasting impact of his life and ministry, while our impact is often so small?

Rilke’s Jewel

I came across a word of wisdom-a jewel of sorts- in my reading this morning, from Rainer Maria Rilke’s Letters to a Young Poet-a nugget that is so insightful I wish I had learned it early in life. The topic Rilke was discussing was literary criticism and creativity. Here’s the nugget:

“In this there is no measuring with time, a year doesn’t matter, and ten years are nothing. Being an artist means: not numbering and counting, but ripening like a tree, which doesn’t force it’s sap, and stands confidently in the storms of spring, not afraid that afterward summer may not come. It does come. But it comes only to those who are patient, who are there as if eternity lay before them, so unconcernedly silent and vast. I learn it every day of my life, learn it with pain I am grateful for: patience is everything ! 

This idea….this principle…this jewel is so simple, so obvious, but so easy to miss, in the face of the ‘want it now’ world where we live. And yet, how important for the writer, the student, the teacher, the pastor, the mom, the dad to know. In my own writing, and in my own public speaking, I’ve learned that to create takes time. One must think, observe, reflect, and wait-until thoughts, ideas, inspiration congeals, making it possible to put onto paper one’s insights or verbally communicate them to a congregation.

So I resonate with Rilke. Patience! Patience is everything, for all things come in it’s time!

How free from frustration we would be if we could only grasp this principle. Many a young person would do well to learn it; and many old men would benefit recovering it. I’ll think on this today…and tomorrow….and beyond, and probably memorize it, for looking back on life I see it’s truth in my writing self, my speaking self, my growing self. I’ve seen it, lived it, benefited from it, but could never express it as Rilke does here.


On Owning Christ and Suffering Well: Samuel Rutherford

I don’t usually write letters to those who hold public office. They live in their world and I live in mine and I’m content with that. But this was not the case in the past. Pastors often wrote magistrates, governors, kings and presidents; and often, the content of their letters called their recipients to serious reflection on their responsibility before God. One such letter was written by Samuel Rutherford to a Mr. John Osburn, Provost of Ayr, on March 14, 1637.

The letter speaks to me, not so much that I should be more involved in the political system, but that I should be involved with those holding public office when possible in order to influence them for Christ. May God grant grace to be more proactive in this, for the good of the nation, state or city, that Jesus might be glorified.

But it speaks to me in another way too. Samuel Rutherford’s was banished from preaching in his church in Anwoth in September, 1636 and forced to live, against his will, in the primarily Roman Catholic town of Aberdeen until sometime in 1638; and as appears in this letter, he suffered well. He states in this letter how he kisses and embraces Christ’s cross, and this same theme is found in many of the letters written to friends during this time.

What was the key to Rutherford’s suffering well? It was Christ~intimacy with and dependence upon Christ as the source of his joy and strength. He was truly a man who could say, as John Bunyan said, that he learned to “live upon God, who is invisible”. His sustenance during this trial was supernatural~and communion with Christ saw him through until he was finally set at liberty.

Rutherford’s letter is below. He wrote:

Much honored Sir~Grace, mercy and peace be to you—Upon our small acquaintance and the good report I hear of you, I could not but write to you. I have nothing to say but that Christ, in that honorable place He has put you in, has entrusted you with a dear pledge, which is his glory; and has armed you with His sword to keep the pledge, and make a good account of it to God.

Be not afraid of men. Your Master can mow down His enemies and make withered hay of fair flowers. Your time will not be long; after your afternoon will come your evening and after evening night. Serve Christ. Back Him; let His cause be your cause; give not a hair-breadth of truth away; for it is not yours but God’s. Then, since you are going, take Christ’s testimony with you out of this life–“Well done, good and faithful servant!” His ‘well done’ is worth a ship full of “good-days”,  and earthly honors.

I have cause to say this because I find Him truth itself. In my sad days, Christ laughs cheerfully and says “All will be well”. Would to God that all this kingdom [speaking of Scotland] and all that know God, knew what is between Christ and me in this prison–what kisses, embracements and love communion! I take His cross in my arms with joy; I bless it, I rejoice in it. Suffering for Christ is my garland. I would not exchange Christ for ten thousand worlds ! No, if the comparison could stand, I would not exchange Christ with heaven.

Sir, pray for me, and the prayers and blessing of  prisoner of Christ meet you in all your straits. Grace be with you.

The Cross and the need for Soul Preparation: Samuel Rutherford

Samuel Rutherford, a Scottish pastor who lived in the 17th century (1600-1661) is one of my favorite Puritan divines and his letters, available through Banner of Truth Trust, are rich in insights and encouragement. One of Rutherford’s letters, dated March 13, 1637, and written to his friend John Ewart, Bailie of Kirkudbright, was of particular interest to me recently. Rutherford wrote to encourage his friend to bears the cross and to lay a sure foundation for his salvation. I was motivated and challenged by this letter because it is fitting for Christians of our day to contemplate. Of particular note is Rutherford’s comparison of the cross to a birds wings or a ships sails, as well as his cal to work out our salvation with an eye on the day of Judgment. If more people were to take Rutherford’s advise there would be less people ashamed on that great and terrible day. May you be encouraged by this letter, written 372 years ago, to run with patience the race set before you, looking to Jesus all the way.

To John Ewart:

“MY VERY WORTHY AND DEAR FRIEND,—I cannot but most kindly thank you for the expressions of your love. Your love and respect to me is a great comfort to me.

I bless His high and glorious name that the terrors of great men have not frightened me from openly affirming the Son of God. No, His cross is the sweetest burden that ever I bare; it is such a burden as wings to a bird or sails to a ship, to carry me forward to my harbor. I have much cause to fall in love with the world; but rather to wish that He who sits upon the floods would bring my broken ship to land, and keep my conscience safe in these dangerous times; for wrath from the Lord is coming on this sinful land.

It were good that we prisoners of hope know of our stronghold to run to, before the storm come on; therefore, Sir, I beseech you by the mercies of God and comforts of His Spirit, by the blood of your Savior, and by your future appearance before the sin avenging Judge of the world, keep your garments clean, and stand for the truth of Christ which you profess. When the time shall come that your eye strings shall break, your face grow pale, your breath grow cold and this house of clay shall totter, and your one foot shall be over the border, in eternity, it will be your comfort and joy that you gave your name to Christ. The greatest part of the world think heaven at the next door, and that Christianity is an easy task; but they will be misled by craft. Worthy Sir, I beseech you, make sure work of your salvation. I have found my experience, that all I could do has much difficulty in the day of my trial; and therefore lay up a sure foundation for the time to come.

I cannot repay you for your undeserved favors to me and my afflicted brother. But I trust to remember you to God. Remember me heartily to your kind wife.

Yours in his only Lord Jesus,

Samuel Rutherford

This letter may be found on page 262 of Letters of Samuel Rutherford, printed by Banner of Truth Trust, first published 1664, reprinted 1984 and 2006.