Tag Archives: Psalms

The Psalms and the Torah

If one stops to think about the fact that the Psalms are the “hymnal” for the worship of God in the temple, then it seems fitting that those psalms be theologically correct. As is so often the case in modern day use of songs, so it was in ancient times that people can and do receive their understanding of God through songs. Whether it is the tune or the catchy phrasing or the way it simply relates to a person’s mental or emotional state, songs and psalms penetrate the heart and influence the mind. And so, as Tucker wrote: “The tôrâ of Yahweh functions as the fundamental guide that leads one into the way of the righteous.”[1]

From the opening Psalm, one is faced with this fundamental guide that leads to righteousness.

Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked,
nor stands in the way of sinners,
nor sits in the seat of scoffers;
but his delight is in the law of the LORD,
and on his law he meditates day and night.
He is like a tree planted by streams of water
that yields its fruit in its season,
and its leaf does not wither.
In all that he does, he prospers. (Psalm 1:1-3, ESV).

Thus, the psalm immediately points the reader/singer to the law. It calls upon the person to meditate on it and to live it if he/she desires to be stable and prosper. Spurgeon was correct when he wrote,

This Psalm may be regarded as The Preface Psalm, having in it a notification of the contents of the entire Book. It is the psalmist’s desire to teach us the way to blessedness, and to warn us of the sure destruction of sinners. This, then, is the matter of the first Psalm, which may be looked upon, in some respects, as the text upon which the whole of the Psalms make up a divine sermon.[2]

For this reason, the Torah—the Law of God—frequently comes up in the Psalms. While Tucker is correct that, “There are only three such psalms in the Psalter: Psalms 1; 19; 119,”[3] there are many direct and indirect pointers to the Law, the Mosaic Covenant, and the need for instruction. For example:

O LORD, who shall sojourn in your tent?
Who shall dwell on your holy hill?
He who walks blamelessly and does what is right
and speaks truth in his heart;
who does not slander with his tongue
and does no evil to his neighbor,
nor takes up a reproach against his friend;
in whose eyes a vile person is despised,
but who honors those who fear the LORD;
who swears to his own hurt and does not change;
who does not put out his money at interest
and does not take a bribe against the innocent.
He who does these things shall never be moved. (Psalm 15, 1-5, ESV).

If one were not closely reading he may miss the fact that these are issues dealt with in the Psalm are also those which are throughout the Torah, but especially in Leviticus and Deuteronomy. Laws against slandering (Lev. 19:16) and doing evil against the neighbor (Exod 20:16-17) are part of the covenantal law. Honoring the Lord (Exod 20:1-11), fearing the Lord (Deut 10:12-13), are the very foundations of the Law. Interest and bribery are not simply social issues of the day, but commands to be lived by within the Torah (Lev 25:35-38; Deut 16:19).

Psalm 25 mentions the covenant ever so briefly:

All the paths of the LORD are steadfast love and faithfulness,
for those who keep his covenant and his testimonies (v. 10, ESV).

Hearkening back to Exodus 34, where God makes the emphatic statement that He is a God of steadfast love and faithfulness, but also that He will judge justly those who break His law–those who break covenant with Him (vv. 6-7, ESV). The interesting part of the Exodus account is that when Moses heard this (along with seeing the back of God), he fell down and worshiped. “And Moses quickly bowed his head toward the earth and worshiped,” (v. 8, ESV). The very truth that God expressed is what led to worship is made clear in verses 9-10. Thus Moses did according to the covenant, what the psalmist was doing and expected the singer to do as they read/sung Psalm 25: worship in light of God’s steadfast love and faithfulness according to the covenant.

Psalm 37 ought to bring one to remember the words of God as the people were soon to enter the land of Canaan. “Do not say in your heart, after the LORD your God has thrust them out before you, ‘It is because of my righteousness that the LORD has brought me to possess this land,’” (Deut 9:4a, ESV). It is clear that the people were not righteous. However, it is just as clear that if the people would be righteous, they themselves would not be thrust out of the land, but would keep it as their inheritance (Exod 20:12, Deut 29:1-9). Thus when one sang the following words, being familiar with the Torah and the Covenant, they ought to have been putting God’s Word straight into their hearts and minds (as verse 31 will state), so as to live the very truths that came from their lips.

Turn away from evil and do good;
so shall you dwell forever.
For the LORD loves justice;
he will not forsake his saints.
They are preserved forever,
but the children of the wicked shall be cut off.
The righteous shall inherit the land
and dwell upon it forever.
The mouth of the righteous utters wisdom,
and his tongue speaks justice.
The law of his God is in his heart;
his steps do not slip. (Psalm 37:27-31, ESV).

These psalms mentioned do not even begin to mention the historical psalms in which the history of Israel or history of the cosmos is recounted, which would once again bring with them the notion that the God to whom they sing or of whom they hear others sing, is the creator God and covenant God who sustains them.

Finally, one quick word about Psalm 119. As Tucker wrote, “Psalm 119 is the Torah psalm par excellence.”[4] Each set of eight verses are alliterated with the Hebrew alphabet. Each verse within the first 8 verses start with Aleph (the first Hebrew letter), then the second set of eight verses start with Beth (the second Hebrew letter) and so on down the line. Not only is this chapter the longest chapter of the Bible, but it is 176 verses pointing one to the excellencies of the Law—the Torah. Some of the most memorized Scriptures come from this text: “Thy word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path,” (Psalm 119:105). “Thy word have I hid in my heart that I may not sin against God, (Psalm 119:11). “Open thou mine eyes that I may behold wondrous things out of thy law,” (Psalm 119:18). This entire psalm was to bring the worshiper to revere and love God’s law, His statutes, His precepts, and His rules.

Within the Psalter, the hymnal of the Jews, the worshipers were taught to worship God but to do so according to the Law and the Mosaic covenant. Calvin wrote, “There are. . .two things which the prophet [writer of Psalm 119] mainly aims at; the exhorting of the children of God to follow godliness and a holy life; and the prescribing of the rule, and pointing out the form of the true worship of God, so that the faithful may devote themselves wholly to the study of the Law.”[5] The same could be said about all the psalms quoted here in this post, and many more. The Book of Psalms is a book built upon the premise of the Law and the Covenant(s). One cannot read/sing for long without standing upon some truth directly or indirectly linked to the Torah.

 

[1] W. D. Tucker, Jr., “Psalms 1: Book of,” in Dictionary of the Old Testament: Wisdom, Poetry and Writings ed. Tremper Longman III and Peter Enns, (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2008), 585.

[2] Charles Spurgeon, The Treasury of David: Volume 1, (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1977), 1.

[3] W. D. Tucker, Jr., “Psalms 1: Book of,” in DOT: Wisdom, Poetry and Writings, 585.

[4] Ibid., 585.

[5] John Calvin, Calvin’s Commentaries: Volume VI, (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2005), 398.

Book Review: Gather God’s People: Understand, Plan, and Lead Worship in Your Local Church

Brian Croft, pastor of Auburndale Baptist Church, teamed up with his associate pastor Jason Adkins who leads and plans ABC’s worship. This is the sixth book review I have done for Pastor Croft’s works, all of which are wonderful resources for new or even seasoned pastors. You can read my other reviews here: The Pastor’s Family, The Pastor’s Ministry, The Pastor’s Soul, Caring for Widows, and Pray for the Flock.

That being saidGather God’s People: Understand, Plan, and Lead Worship in Your Local Church, published by Zondervan in 2014, is a pretty good book. I know that isn’t the best language to use when reviewing a book. It’s very non-committal. Let me explain why, and perhaps you can forgive me for such a review. Having read five other books by Pastor Croft, most of which were co-authored, Gather God’s People simply had an altogether different feel or vibe to it. I should have expected it, since the first words of the introduction are, “I (Brian) have a confession to make. Jason, my coauthor, is really the one who wrote this book,” (p. 13). Pastor Croft does directly contribute to portions of the book, but by and large this is Jason Adkin’s book, with Jason Adkin’s thinking and writing style.  I have often read that we are not to review the book that we wish we had read, but the book in which we actually read. And for that reason, I want to say that outside of the writing style that I’m used to from a Brian Croft book, this book was well-written and wonderfully practical, as I have come to expect from Practical Shepherding books.

The premise of the book is simple and doable. While giving examples from their own experience and their own worship planning and services, the author’s readily admit that this is not the only way, but it is a biblical model for worship. After all, “Through the Old Testament, Christians learn that God cares deeply how he is worshiped. In the New Testament, God explicitly teaches believers how he is to be worshiped,” (p. 19). Thus by chapter 2, Pastor Adkins laid out the five-part objective to worship: Preach the Word, Read the Word, Pray the Word, Sing the Word, and See the Word. This is not a new understanding, but simply a clarification and a practicum of how and why these objectives are biblical and right.  These five objectives make up the book.  However, I would not recommend simply taking these five objectives to memory and ignoring the actual reading of the Croft/Adkins material. There is wisdom to be found in these pages. Wisdom such as “Do no hermeneutical harm to your congregation’s understanding of Scripture,” (p. 60), and

The task of planning worship songs for a weekly gather is not about perpetuating perceptions about your church. Worship planners ought to equip believers to carry out the commands to edify one another through “psalms and hymns and spiritual songs” and to address their praises to God with a heartfelt melody (Ephesians 5:19, ESV).

p. 73.

Gather God’s People is laid out into three sections rather than two like many of these practical guides. Normally the layout tends to be the why and the how. In this particular book it is more of the why, the how, and the do. After all, “Ministers must prepare to present the various elements in the service in a way that aids the worship of the congregation rather than hinders it,” (p. 86). The first part is written to help us “Understand Worship.” Its chapters are about the biblical theology, elements, and spirituality of worship. It is a crash course in worship which quickly goes through what many worship books deal with as a whole. The second part is showing one how to actually “Plan Worship.” This was the most helpful part of the book for me. It is made up of three chapters as well. Interestingly enough, there is not much on “preaching the word,” though it is the first element or objective. I would venture to say that the reason is that this is not a book on hermeneutics, but worship as a whole. Pastor Croft’s book on The Pastor’s Ministry would deal more with that, as well as many other books on preaching. The three chapters deal with the reading, praying, and singing of the Word. Pastor Adkins details how to plan each of these aspects and does not shy away from the fact that emotions (though not emotionalism) are involved in worship. There is a feeling that is invoked as we worship, and leaders/planners need to be mindful of that. “Acknowledge the emotional and spiritual condition of your congregation in your planning. Furthermore, intended emotional responses should play a role in planning,” (p. 77).  The final part is about leading the congregation in these areas. The final three chapters (not including the Conclusion or appendices) are in this section. It is there that the authors deal with the actual worship service and the implementation of what has been planned. It is also here that the ordinances (the “seeing the word”) aspect of worship is brought up.

A quick note on the appendices: they are mostly showing how the Psalms can be incorporated into the music aspects of congregational worship. There are arguments for doing so along with examples of them set to familiar tunes.

All in all, this was a helpful and practical book. It is probably the most practical book on worship I have read. Much of what I tend to read is theoretical or theological, but rarely do authors have the gumption to get down to the nitty-gritty details of planning and executing the worship service. While it took me a little longer to read this work, coming in at only 143 pages, due to the writing style and the holidays, I appreciated the contents of it. I readily give it 4 stars on Good Reads, and readily commend it to every pastor and/or worship leader.