The Psalms: To be believed (and sung)

Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God.
– Colossians 3:16 NASB

So then do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. And do not get drunk with wine, for that is dissipation, but be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord…
– Ephesians 5:17-19

In We are the metaphor, my point was that we need to pray and sing the Psalms, believing.

For perspective…

  • There are examples of wickedness in the Bible. The Holy Spirit gives us those examples to warn us, not as examples to follow (1 Cor. 10:1-11).
  • The Proverbs are general statements generally true.  That’s what proverbs are.
  • The Revelation is apocalyptic writing. It’s unusually difficult to figure out relative timing of events in apocalyptic writing.

But the Psalms are clearly doctrine, to be believed (and sung).

More than feelings

How do we know this, that the Psalms are doctrine to be believed — and not merely David’s personal feelings, for example?

Let’s take a quick survey of how the New Testament treats the Psalms:

  • In Matthew 21:33-44 Jesus quotes Psalm 118 to show that the rejected One must become chief:

    Jesus said to them, “Did you never read in the Scriptures, ‘THE STONE WHICH THE BUILDERS REJECTED, THIS BECAME THE CHIEF CORNER stone; THIS CAME ABOUT FROM THE LORD, AND IT IS MARVELOUS IN OUR EYES’?
    – Matthew 21:42

    If the psalm isn’t speaking objective truth to be believed, Jesus’ argument falls flat. Jesus even uses uses sarcasm: “Did you never read…?” implying that, as teachers of the Law, of course they’d not only read but were very familiar with the passage. Neither do the Pharisees say, “But we shouldn’t draw theological conclusions from a psalm!” They were always looking for ways to make Jesus look like a fool — why would they have missed this opportunity if it were not clear to them as well that the psalms were to be believed?

  • At His death, Jesus cries out “My God, my God, why have You forsaken me?”, fulfilling Psalm 22, which also foretold of the treatment of His garments.
  • Now He said to them, “These are My words which I spoke to you while I was still with you, that all things which are written about Me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.”
    – Luke 24:44

  • Jesus, referring to Psalm 41:

    “I do not speak of all of you. I know the ones I have chosen; but it is that the Scripture may be fulfilled, ‘HE WHO EATS MY BREAD HAS LIFTED UP HIS HEEL AGAINST ME.’
    – John 13:18

  • In Matthew 22:41-46 Jesus brings an end to his enemies’ attempts to trap Him in His words. Using Psalm 110 as the centerpiece of His argument, He proves that the Son of David is God, because David calls him ‘Lord’:

    Now while the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them a question: “What do you think about the Christ, whose son is He?” They said to Him, “The son of David.” He said to them, “Then how does David in the Spirit call Him ‘Lord,’ saying, ‘THE LORD SAID TO MY LORD, “SIT AT MY RIGHT HAND, UNTIL I PUT YOUR ENEMIES BENEATH YOUR FEET”‘? “If David then calls Him ‘Lord,’ how is He his son?”
    – Matthew 22:41-45

    The outcome? Verse 46 says,

    No one was able to answer Him a word, nor did anyone dare from that day on to ask Him another question.

  • Peter on Psalm 41:

    At this time Peter stood up in the midst of the brethren (a gathering of about one hundred and twenty persons was there together), and said, “Brethren, the Scripture had to be fulfilled, which the Holy Spirit foretold by the mouth of David concerning Judas, who became a guide to those who arrested Jesus.
    – Acts 1:15-16

  • Look how Peter wields the sword of the Spirit using the Psalms in Acts 2:22-36:

    “Men of Israel, listen to these words: Jesus the Nazarene, a man attested to you by God with miracles and wonders and signs which God performed through Him in your midst, just as you yourselves know this Man, delivered over by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, you nailed to a cross by the hands of godless men and put Him to death. But God raised Him up again, putting an end to the agony of death, since it was impossible for Him to be held in its power. For David says of Him, ‘I SAW THE LORD ALWAYS IN MY PRESENCE; FOR HE IS AT MY RIGHT HAND, SO THAT I WILL NOT BE SHAKEN. ‘THEREFORE MY HEART WAS GLAD AND MY TONGUE EXULTED; MOREOVER MY FLESH ALSO WILL LIVE IN HOPE; BECAUSE YOU WILL NOT ABANDON MY SOUL TO HADES, NOR ALLOW YOUR HOLY ONE TO UNDERGO DECAY. ‘YOU HAVE MADE KNOWN TO ME THE WAYS OF LIFE; YOU WILL MAKE ME FULL OF GLADNESS WITH YOUR PRESENCE.’ Brethren, I may confidently say to you regarding the patriarch David that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day. And so, because he was a prophet and knew that GOD HAD SWORN TO HIM WITH AN OATH TO SEAT one OF HIS DESCENDANTS ON HIS THRONE, he looked ahead and spoke of the resurrection of the Christ, that HE WAS NEITHER ABANDONED TO HADES, NOR DID His flesh SUFFER DECAY. This Jesus God raised up again, to which we are all witnesses. Therefore having been exalted to the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, He has poured forth this which you both see and hear. For it was not David who ascended into heaven, but he himself says: ‘THE LORD SAID TO MY LORD, “SIT AT MY RIGHT HAND, UNTIL I MAKE YOUR ENEMIES A FOOTSTOOL FOR YOUR FEET.”‘ Therefore let all the house of Israel know for certain that God has made Him both Lord and Christ — this Jesus whom you crucified.”
    – Acts 2:22-36

    Had Peter been ashamed of the apparent contradiction of David saying “YOU WILL NOT ABANDON MY SOUL TO HADES, NOR ALLOW YOUR HOLY ONE TO UNDERGO DECAY” when it was clear to everyone that David had died and undergone decay, Peter would neither have honored the Word of the Lord through David nor understood the glorious truth that David was not speaking of himself, but Christ!

    God honored Peter’s firm trust in the Word of God, the people were cut to the heart, and about three thousand souls were added to the church that day! (Acts 2:37-41)

  • Paul:

    “And we preach to you the good news of the promise made to the fathers, that God has fulfilled this promise to our children in that He raised up Jesus, as it is also written in the second Psalm, ‘YOU ARE MY SON; TODAY I HAVE BEGOTTEN YOU.’
    – Acts 13:32-33

  • The book of Hebrews is absolutely stuffed with Psalm references teaching doctrine — check out the first six chapters.

What about the parts that aren’t sophisticated?

Perhaps we’re fine with all the references thus far being authoritative. But what should we do when we encounter this:

You have a strong arm; Your hand is mighty, Your right hand is exalted.
– Psalm 89:13

And when we encounter this:

Out of the depths I have cried to You, O LORD. Lord, hear my voice! Let Your ears be attentive To the voice of my supplications.
– Psalm 130:1-2

We can’t really sing that, can we? God doesn’t really have hands, does He?

But brothers and sisters, look at the spirit of the psalmist, and then look at our spirit. Does the psalmist step away and argue, “But God doesn’t really have hands!” Did he make a careless mistake? Was he naive the way those ancients were sometimes?

No – he praises God with both precision and abandon. And we should too. The psalms are not full of technical error. They are full of the wisdom of God, and we should learn from them.

What about the parts we hate?

Then there are the parts we hate…

There’s the apparent self-righteousness, in passages like this:

Vindicate me, O LORD, according to my righteousness and my integrity that is in me.
– Psalm 7:8

“My righteousness”? “My integrity that is in me”? We could never sing that, could we?

And then there’s what looks like nastiness, or meanhearted unforgiving sin. The four verses of Psalm 139 that no one ever quotes at weddings are:

O that You would slay the wicked, O God;
Depart from me, therefore, men of bloodshed.
For they speak against You wickedly,
And Your enemies take Your name in vain.
Do I not hate those who hate You, O LORD?
And do I not loathe those who rise up against You?
I hate them with the utmost hatred;
They have become my enemies.
– Psalm 139:19-22

“I hate them with the utmost hatred”? No, we should never do that.

And:

O daughter of Babylon, you devastated one,
How blessed will be the one who repays you
With the recompense with which you have repaid us.
How blessed will be the one who seizes and dashes your little ones
Against the rock.
– Psalm 137:8-9

And forty-four psalms (almost one third) mention enemies. Nasty stuff in there, right?

I cannot treat this matter fully here, but a few quick points are:

  • It’s about God’s vengeance, not our own;
  • “Hallowed be thy name, thy kingdom come, thy will be done” implies

    “Curses, maledictions and disgrace upon every other name and every other kingdom. May they be ruined and torn apart and may all their schemes and wisdom and plans run aground.” –Martin Luther

  • We have no concern whatever for God’s honor

O brothers and sisters, let us repent of the wisdom that is foolishness in God’s eyes, that looks at the Psalms with a mixture of embarrassment and unbelief — except for the pretty parts.

Let us humble ourselves under God’s mighty hand and, like a little child in the strong arms of her father, take comfort in His truth.

Let us learn to honor the Word of God — the whole counsel.  Let us embrace it all with love for our Savior

And may God pour out His Spirit on us, to the utter destruction of the kingdom of the evil one, but to the building up of His church and to His own eternal glory, whose name be forever praised! Amen.

References

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