This deep dive into the book of Psalms with Bible professor Sandra Richter will do three things: (1) it will tutor us in what honest faith in hard times looks like; (2) we will be reminded of who we are and who God is; and (3) we will see that we do not walk alone, but we will find our way back to the Lord of Heaven and Earth who has never ceased to hear the cries of his people.
When lyric and melody combine to declare God’s Word to his people? Here is strength. And when the people of God declare their shared story in song? Here is power. Here is a joy that heals and transforms. And this is why we cull our songs until we have a hymnbook that embodies who we were, who we are, and who we pray we will be.
The purpose of worship is to ascribe glory to God, not to edify the worshipers. Almost half of the Psalms were written by David, a lyricist and a man of worship, and the rest were written by collectors and professional worship leaders in the tabernacle, to give voice to the worship of God by rehearsing his mighty acts.
The tabernacle provided spaces both for cohabitation with God, and separation from him. It was a place for sacrifice, meditation, and celebration. As the central unifying site in Israelite society, it held the collective memory of the nation.
The Psalms are much more about the experience of the worshiper than theology. In the Psalms we hear the hurt, rate, and anger of the ancient Israelites. Rather than withholding our emotions, God wants us to express our emotions to him, even when they aren't eloquent or uplifting.
There is something about poetry, music, and art that gets into our souls in a way that prose cannot. When a congregations sings out their declaration of faith together, or recites their creed together, the words transform into something almost metaphysical, with power to unify, define, embolden, and strengthen the worshipers.
God compares us to sheep, and himself to a shepherd. Essentially, God is announcing that he has taken responsibility for us, affirming that the life of the flock is just as important as the life of the shepherd. He is claiming us in our smelly stupidity and stepping in to lead, protect, and nurture our nearsighted selves.
The lament is the largest single category of literature in the book of Psalms. When the people of God assemble to sing words of lament together, they are strengthened to stand another day. When they name their pain together, and they shout their hope together, the echoes of their song reverberate against the darkness.
Jesus dies with the words of the Psalter on his lips. In the throes of despair, he models to us how to not simply endure, but triumph over the darkest moments of life. In this blackest of nights, Jesus calls out to a God who will not fail. In his weakest hour, he leans on the faith of those who have gone before, and he lets the ancients pray for him.