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The LORD reigns! 

Psalms Book 4

"The human heart is like a ship on a stormy sea driven about by wind blowing from all four corners of heaven ... The Book of the Psalms is full of heartfelt utterances made during [these] storms. Where can one find nobler words to express joy than in the Psalms of praise or gratitude? ... Or where can one find more profound, more penitent, more sorrowful words, in which to express grief than in the Psalms of lamentation?" (Martin Luther)

I love the psalms! Not just on a 'micro' level (last week's blog) but also on the 'macro' level (this week's blog). For me, one of the most exciting recent developments in Old Testament scholarship has been the move to start reading individual psalms as part of a wider collection with an overall shape and message. As well as working on a 'micro' level as individual poems, each psalm has been carefully ordered and arranged as part of a wider psalter and bigger story.

Psalms 1-2 serve as an introduction. True happiness comes from meditating on God's word (Psalm 1), in particular the truths about God's king (Psalm 2).

Book 1 (Psalms 3-41) introduces king David. But unlike the king of Psalm 2, David is beleaguered with enemies, sickness and besetting sin.

Book 2 (Psalms 42-72) widens the gap between king David and Psalm 2. David is clearly not the king through whom the blessings will come. 

Book 3 (Psalms 73-89) reaches rock bottom. The psalmist is in exile (74:3; 79:1; 89:51), there is no king, and God appears to have broken his promise.

Book 4 (Psalms 90-106) marks the pivotal turning point, answering the questions of Books 1-3 with the message that God is king. Although a Davidic king no longer reigns in Jerusalem, the heavenly king still sits on the throne.

Book 5 (Psalms 107-150) is dominated by a repeated call to praise and give thanks to the LORD. God's promise finds fulfilment in a king-priest-servant (Psalm 110, 118, 134). The journey out of exile to Jerusalem will be tough (Psalms 120-134), but pilgrims will be supplied with all the resources they need in God's word (Psalm 119).

One of the great advantages of reading the psalter in this way is how it teaches the pattern of this age, the shape of the Christian life. The overall message reflects the tension of living in the gap between the ages, between promise and fulfilment. On the one hand we have a set of promises; on the other hand our reality seems so different - the truths of Psalm 2 are a long way from our present experience of exile. 

Whereas other parts of the Bible may teach us the theology of the gap ('the now and not yet'), the psalms give us the emotional heart response to go with that reality. Psalms of lament (found more frequently in Books 1-3) give us words to express sorrow and grief as we experience the pain of exile; psalms of praise (found more frequently in Books 4-5) give us words to express joy and delight as we look forward to God's promise. By reading through the psalms, 1-150 (and then starting over again), faith comes in the midst of darkness in the hope that lament will become praise. 

Beginning this coming Sunday morning, we start a new series in the psalms. Over the past few years we've studied Books 1-3, but now as we come to Book 4 we reach the great pivot point of the psalter. In the vale of lament, praise breaks through. It is here that gloom and despair are replaced with fresh confidence and bright hope. The LORD reigns! - that's the message of Book 4. As exiles, living between the ages, caught in the tension of the gap, how we need to hear that!

Look forward to seeing you on Sunday morning!

Rich Alldritt

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