Introduction to the Psalms

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Small Group Material: 
Week Commencing: 
15 Apr 2010
Bible Base: 
Psalms

Introduction to the Psalms [1]
The Psalms are in the Bible to show us how to speak to God in worship and prayer. “Most scripture speaks to us, Psalms speak for us”. This means that the Psalms are God’s Word for us in a different way to other portions of scripture. They give us permission to be honest with God; but we need to remember that we are not required to agree with everything expressed in a Psalm!
There are several sorts of psalms:-
·         Praise. These describe what God has done in general terms eg in creation, in delivering Israel from Egypt, in giving Israel the law.
·         Thanksgiving/Testimony. These describe more specific instances of God’s goodness eg in answering specific prayer
·         Prophecy/Wisdom. Teaching psalms. These can be seen more as God speaking to us. Eg Ps 37
·         Protest/Lament. These psalms express hurt and pleading for help, and often protest at how things are. They often express a sense of abandonment, of God not listening or answering, even of being let down by God. Sometimes the Psalmist speaks of his own experience (“I am a worm...); sometimes of the attitudes of others (“all who see me mock at me”); sometimes directly to God (“Why did you abandon me...You do not answer). Protest psalms often contrast the present experience with what they know about the character of God and God’s faithful actions in the past. They say more about what is wrong than about the details of what God should do about it. These psalms are about provoking God to take action, but leave the nature of the action up to God. They urge God to listen not to abandon; to deliver; to act against the people causing the trouble; and to put the world right. They often also contain shocking emotions of anger and sometimes hatred.
·         Confession
·         Trust
·         Intercession especially for the King
Many psalms contain several of these elements. Many psalms move from protest/lament to recognition of who God is to trust and then to praise. “The praise has power to transform the pain. But conversely, the present pain keeps the praise honest” (Brueggemann).
                                                                                                Praise
                                                                Obedience                                          Protest
                                                                Thanksgiving                                      Plea
                                                                                                Trust
This cycle can be entered anywhere; each time we go round it, “each element has more depth. The praise can be more nuanced. The protest can be more urgent. The trust can be deeper. The testimony can be more fervent.”

[1] Much of what follows is influenced by Psalms:Volume 1 by John Goldingay (Baker Academic 2006) pp 21-78