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Praying the Psalms

Praise and Silence – Psalm 106:1, 2

In spite of the fact that it comes out of a deep sense of the failure of the nation, Psalm 106 opens (literally!) with a “Hallelujah!”:

הַלְלוּיָהּ הוֹדוּ לַיהוָה כִּי־טוֹב כִּי לְעוֹלָם חַסְדּוֹ

 “Praise the LORD! Oh give thanks to the LORD, for He is good; For His loving-kindness is everlasting.” (Psalms 106:1 NASB).

Hebrew_bible_4It is an exhortation. The “hallelujah” is an imperative. We are being told to praise.

I don’t think this is an attempt to command an emotion. This is not the same as: “Don’t worry, be happy.” I think I am being told to turn my mind toward the God who alone is worthy of praise.

Emotion cannot be commanded. But, emotion arises when I turn my mind toward something that awakens that feeling. To feel an emotion, I must find the object that arouses it.

Sin, guilt and failure cannot be allowed to be the last word. It leaves me in despair. (more…)

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Failure as a Backdrop to Praise – Psalm 106:6

Hebrew-MS-PsalmsI’ve said something about my usual habits in reading the Psalms here: Praying the Psalms. Briefly stated, my usual procedure in reading, meditating and praying with the Psalms is to read consecutively and slowly. For this purpose I use an Interlinear (Hebrew with English below) edition of the Psalms. And, usually this approach works very well.

But, with Psalm 106 this didn’t work. With Psalm 106 it was necessary for me to see the opening verses of praise (vv. 1-5) in the light of their larger context.

When I began to read and meditate on the Psalm, I was struck by the language of praise and worship in the opening verses (though they were similar to verses found elsewhere in the Psalms), but then I got “stuck” (from verse 6 onward) in a long section that recounts the sins of the nation of Israel (verses 6-46) and God’s unfailing commitment to them in spite of all that.

This forced me to go back to the beginning and read it over again. The opening verses of praise to God (הַלְלוּיָהּ “Hallelujah”!) are delivered in the conscious memory of the people’s repeated unfaithfulness.

This is praise in the context of guilt. (more…)

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The Way of Blessedness – Psalm 1:1-3

Hebrew-MS-PsalmsFirst, a little recap. If Psalm 1 is the introduction to the whole book of Psalms, then I am here invited into a life of blessedness: the very first word of the whole book is the word “blessed” (אַשְׁרֵי).

The word signifies: “a heightened state of happiness and joy, implying very favorable circumstances, often resulting from the kind acts of God.” (Hebrew/Aramaic to English Dictionary and Index to the NIV Old Testament from Zondervan NIV Exhaustive Concordance ed. by Edward W. Goodrick, John R. Kohlenberger III, and James A. Swanson. Copyright ©1999, 1990 by the Zondervan Corporation Grand Rapids, Michigan 49530 All rights reserved. Electronic text prepared by OakTree Software, Inc. Version 1.0)

And the Psalm says (verse 1):

אַשְׁרֵי־הָאִישׁ אֲשֶׁר לֹא הָלַךְ בַּעֲצַת רְשָׁעִים וּבְדֶרֶךְ חַטָּאִים לֹא עָמָד וּבְמוֹשַׁב לֵצִים לֹא יָשָׁב

“How blessed is the [person] who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked, Nor stand in the path of sinners, Nor sit in the seat of scoffers!” (more…)

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Blessing – Psalm 1:1

Reflections and a Prayer on Psalm 1

Hebrew-MS-PsalmsIt is generally agreed among the scholars that Psalm 1 is an introduction to the whole book of Psalms. Some think it was never itself sung. So, reading it is a way of orienting ourselves to the whole book that follows. It shows us how the first compilers of this book understood it.

Prayer calls us away. It calls us to focus on the ultimate rather than the immediate. It calls us to attentiveness to God. In a sense, we become more aware of our surroundings, not less aware.

אַשְׁרֵי־הָאִישׁ אֲשֶׁר לֹא הָלַךְ בַּעֲצַת רְשָׁעִים וּבְדֶרֶךְ חַטָּאִים לֹא עָמָד וּבְמוֹשַׁב לֵצִים לֹא יָשָׁב
“How blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked, Nor stand in the path of sinners, Nor sit in the seat of scoffers!” (NASB)

And, the very opening word of this Psalm — of the entire book of Psalms —  is a word of blessing: אַשְׁרֵי. (more…)

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Praying the Psalms

An Introduction.

Hebrew-MS-PsalmsMany years ago, back in the days when I was in Seminary, I picked up an Interlinear Hebrew-English Psalter.

It’s one of the best purchases I’ve ever made.

It’s a small, slim volume, a 1974 Zondervan reprint of a much older edition published by Samuel Bagster & Sons Ltd. in London. The correct title is: The Interlineary Hebrew and English Psalter in which The Construction of Every Word is Indicated, and the Root of Each Distinguished by the Use of Hollow or Other Types.

I liked the little book immediately, because it is printed in a way that clearly indicated the Hebrew roots and constructions. I knew immediately that I’d made a good purchase.

But, it was many years before I actually put it to any regular use.

Somewhere, some time, I learned to use the Psalms as my Prayer Book. (more…)

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