Archive for October, 2012



URC Psalter Hymnal Update

The URCNA Hymn Proposal

The URCNA Hymn Proposal

I just received the first news concerning the URC Psalter Hymnal project since Synod 2012.  Rev. Derrick Vander Meulen’s report on the merger between the URC and OPC projects appears in the September/October 2012 issue of The Outlook (p. 31).

Most of the content of the report simply reflects the progress and decisions made at Synod 2012, which we’ve previously discussed here on URC Psalmody.  But Rev. Vander Meulen provides the following update towards the end of his article:

The two committees have already begun evaluating each other’s work and plan to meet face-to-face in early November, 2012, with psalms on the agenda.  Once there is consensus on the psalms, they will work on the hymn collection.  URCNA churches can expect that this final hymn collection submitted to synod will be quite different from the Hymn Proposal previously distributed.

The goal is to have a completed psalm and hymn collection to be approved at the 2016 synod and general assembly.  If that goal is reached and approval given, the next step will be production and publishing.

Although it surely wouldn’t be fair to label the previously released URC Hymn Proposal as a failure, it has certainly sparked a significant amount of controversy throughout the federation.  As a result of the joint project between the URC and the OPC, however, I am confident that the revised hymn section will reflect the best of the hymn-singing traditions of both denominations.  Hopefully the committees’ work on the psalms will have a similar result.

So pray for the URC Psalter Hymnal Committee, as they continue a monumental project that is expected to span at least twenty years.  Pray for the OPC’s committee and the combined work of the two churches as they meet in a few weeks.  And pray that the forthcoming URC/OPC Psalter Hymnal will prove to be a rich collection of psalm settings and hymns for the worship of our Lord.

To God be the glory,

–MRK

Sing a New Song, Chapter 7: Prayers for God’s Glory

Imprecatory psalms have always been a sticky wicket for Christians.  Here at URC Psalmody we’ve already devoted several posts to discussing these prayers for vengeance on the wicked.  Such psalms are difficult to understand; they just seem so harsh, so hateful, so—well, “un-Christian.”  But we can’t just skip them.  For one thing, they are part of God’s Word.  For another, about ninety of the 150 psalms contain imprecatory language, making them a significant force to be reckoned with.  So what are we to do?  How can we sing these psalms?

With this preface we return to our ongoing study of Sing a New Song: Recovering Psalm Singing for the Twenty-First Century, edited by Joel Beeke and Anthony Selvaggio.  In Chapter 7, entitled “Christian Cursing?”, David Murray approaches the perplexing topic of imprecatory psalms from a practical, pastoral perspective.  He first essays to examine some wrong solutions to the problem of imprecatory psalms; then he proposes ten helpful reminders to shed light on the real nature of these songs.

JDO: This was a helpful chapter to me.  I’ve never chosen an imprecatory psalm at a “requests night” psalm-sing.  I tend to feel awkward when I get to an imprecatory psalm in my own devotions.  While I don’t skip them, I tend to read them faster than usual, just “taking them for information,” rather than seeking to pray, sing, and live the words myself.

MRK: I’m very much the same way.  Unfortunately, I haven’t often heard the imprecatory psalms thoroughly explained during Scripture readings or approached in sermons either.  They certainly are a bugbear for many Christians.

Murray begins his analysis of incorrect views by debunking the myth that the imprecatory psalms are applicable to the Old Testament only, and irrelevant to the New Testament—in other words, “that these psalms are included in the Scriptures only to show the contrast between the two eras” (p. 112).

JDO: This is a mistaken approach towards God and the Scriptures.  We know that God is consistent and that His standards do not change.  He commands us to love our enemies in both Old and New Testaments; he also curses sinners in both Testaments.

The second wrong approach is a position held by C. S. Lewis.  While my approach to Christianity has been shaped significantly by Lewis, in this case we have to firmly reject his argument: that David was showing his sinful human side in writing the imprecatory psalms.  That is, these psalms are not divinely inspired.

MRK: Quite simply, Murray responds, “We reject this explanation because it raises questions about the inspiration of Scripture.”  After all, II Timothy 3:16 doesn’t read, “All scripture is given by inspiration of God…well, except for the imprecatory psalms.”

What about the third interpretation—that imprecatory psalms are directed at demons, not people?

JDO: Murray rightly points out that this is a legitimate answer.  Ephesians 6:12 says that “we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but…against the spiritual forces of evil.”  Spiritual warfare is very real, and it’s something we should think about more often.  However, this particular explanation has a problem because it limits the imprecatory psalms to speaking exclusively about spiritual warfare.  Such a view fails to realize that there is also legitimacy in praying against real human enemies, as evidenced by the fact that the Apostles used Psalms 69 and 109 against Judas in Acts 1:20.

The fourth wrong way to understand the imprecatory psalms is to regard them simply as predictive prophecy about the end times.  In other words, these psalms aren’t prayers—they don’t represent something that their authors desired or that we should desire.  Instead, the imprecatory psalms merely state what will happen to the wicked at the final judgment.

MRK: This argument is incorrect for two reasons: (1) the Hebrew doesn’t support this interpretation; and (2) Revelation tells us that even in heaven we will desire God’s vengeance upon his enemies (Rev. 6:10; 16:5,6; 18:20).

Lastly, Murray considers the claim that the imprecatory psalms are just examples of “hyperbolic language, or purposeful exaggeration.”

JDO: He writes this off as patently ridiculous.  The imprecatory psalms have such a sense of real prayer in desperate times (think of Psalms 58 and 59) that this explanation is “stretching too far” and merely shows an attempt to “explain away” the imprecatory psalms.

Murray continues his chapter by proposing “some helps that will improve our understanding and motivate our singing” of the imprecatory psalms (p. 114).

MRK: Firstly, Murray points to God’s “gospel curse” on the serpent and his seed in Genesis 3:14,15.  Imprecations against the wicked are actually a plea for God to fulfill his gospel promise to believers.

JDO: The second help Murray offers is a reflection on David’s forgiving character.  The Bible portrays David as a merciful and gracious man who often prayed for his enemies. The imprecatory psalms he wrote, then, sprang not from a vindictive temper, but from a heart on fire for God’s glory.

MRK: Thirdly, and in connection with some of the themes of Chapter 6, Murray points out that the Old Testament king represented God, and that “David was God’s anointed in a particularly special, christological way” (p. 115).  As an anointed and divinely inspired psalmist, David “did not cringe from praying prayers that had God’s glory, not human welfare, as their ultimate end.”  As Martin Lloyd-Jones explained it, “It’s just the zeal of the psalmist.  He’s grieved and troubled because these people are not honoring God as they should be.”

JDO: The fourth help is simply how often the New Testament quotes the imprecatory psalms.  After the messianic psalms (like 2, 22, 110, and 118), the imprecatory psalms are next most often referenced.  So we should keep this in mind when we struggle with the imprecations: the New Testament was “not the least embarrassed” to quote them—in fact, it quotes them with approval.

MRK: Fifthly, Murray notes the many imprecations found in the New Testament itself.  He points to the modern “over-emphasis on the love of God at the expense of the justice of God,” which tends to gloss over New Testament references to God’s justice while completely ignoring the Old Testament.  Says Murray, “God’s justice and God’s love are found in both testaments, despite repeated attempts by many to ignore this important truth” (p. 116).

JDO: Right.  Among the New Testament’s imprecatory passages one might think of II Timothy 4:14, where Paul says of Alexander, “May the Lord reward him according to his works.”  Related to this is the sixth help, which is that the imprecatory psalms are based on the justice of God.  Murray says the theme of the imprecatory psalms is “that justice be done and the innocent righteous vindicated” (p. 117).

MRK: More than that, Murray explains that “the foundation of biblical justice was retribution: an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth”—a principle to which the psalms often appeal (“Let the net that he hid ensnare him,” Ps. 35:8).  “If the idea of retributive justice is lost or devalued,” says Murray, “then the imprecatory psalms will never be properly understood.”

Seventhly, Murray teaches that our desire to see God’s kingdom come must include a desire to see the kingdom of the wicked overthrown.  “Christians are to love their personal enemies and bless those who curse them and spitefully use them.  Nevertheless, they will desire at the same time the downfall of all evil and will pray for such.”

JDO: This relates a lot to what we’ve shared before from William Gurnall: the imprecatory psalms are not to be directed against our personal enemies but against their wicked actions.  Says Murray, “We may love [our enemy’s] soul while at the same time praying that God would defeat him in his persecution of God’s people” (p. 118).

The eighth help is a reminder that “vengeance is the Lord’s.”  To pray the imprecatory psalms is to deny one’s own right to vengeance and leave it to God’s wisdom.  It’s hard in our context to relate right away to these psalms, since we live easily in a land with no imminent persecution.  But God’s Kingdom is still at war, and these are war psalms.  By praying them, we rely on the justice of God to conquer for us.

MRK: In the ninth place, Murray notes that “an imprecatory prayer will often have the good of the sinner at its heart, because God will often use judgments to bring sinners to Himself” (p. 119).  The imprecatory psalms often request God to stop wickedness and convert the wicked at the same time—kind of a “push-and-pull” effect.

JDO: Finally, the imprecatory psalms point us to Christ, who at the end of time will return to punish the wicked and vindicate His people.  Ultimately the imprecatory psalms will be answered and fulfilled in the return of Christ and the last judgment.

MRK: As we emphasized in our last installment, the key to understanding the psalms (particularly the imprecatory psalms) is to see Christ praying and singing them himself.  Murray brings this point home in a quote from War Psalms of the Prince of Peace by James Adams (p. 120):

When we understand that it is this merciful and holy Savior of sinners who is praying, we will no longer be ashamed of these prayers, but rather glory in them.  Christ’s prayers lead us to give God the honor and trust now because we know that God answers His prayers.   Therefore, we are assured that the powers of evil will fall and God alone will reign forever!

In closing, perhaps we can summarize the Christian’s proper response to the imprecatory psalms in one word: Maranatha—Lord, come quickly.

Next time in our Sing a New Song series, we plan to tackle Malcolm H. Watts’s mammoth chapter on “The Case for Psalmody.”  We hope you’ll join us then.

–JDO/MRK

Psalm 127: The Lord Builds the House

Unless the Lord the house shall build,
The weary builders toil in vain;
Unless the Lord the city shield,
The guards a useless watch maintain.

Within the group of Songs of Ascent (Psalms 120-134), Psalms 127 and 128 form a sub-category of what might be called “household songs,” panting a beautiful picture of a family that fears the LORD and walks in his ways.

Psalm 127 opens with three mighty declarations that fly in the face of all the world’s priorities:

Unless the LORD builds the house,
those who build it labor in vain.
Unless the LORD watches over the city,
the watchman stays awake in vain.
It is in vain that you rise up early
and go late to rest,
eating the bread of anxious toil;
for he gives to his beloved sleep.

–Psalm 127:1,2 (ESV)

Busyness seems to be such a prominent characteristic in modern American families.  School, sports, jobs, vacations, and a host of other activities keep us on our toes almost every waking moment of the week.  But a household built on busyness will ultimately crumble—because no amount of everyday “stuff” can give meaning to life.

Further, we often use busyness to keep ourselves distracted from fear and worry.  As pictures of our ever-present anxiety the psalmist describes a city watchman staying awake in vain and a busy family member “eating the bread of anxious toil.”  This too cannot create a healthy family.

In this context, the psalmist’s three big statements are incredibly refreshing.  The LORD builds the house.  The LORD watches over his people.  The LORD gives us rest from fear.  Like the writers of our Catechism, the psalmist declares that a believing family can have true comfort if their trust is in God.

Psalm 127 then transitions to a description of the most significant blessing that the LORD bestows upon the righteous family—children.

Behold, children are a heritage from the LORD,
the fruit of the womb a reward.
Like arrows in the hand of a warrior
are the children of one’s youth.
Blessed is the man
who fills his quiver with them!
He shall not be put to shame
when he speaks with his enemies in the gate.

–vv. 3-5

Throughout the Scriptures we see examples of the godly rejoicing in their children as a manifestation of God’s faithfulness to them.  Indeed, procreation is part of the creation mandate of Genesis 1—“Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it.”  What a blessing to fulfill this promise and behold God’s provision!

269, “Unless the Lord the House Shall Build”

(Sung by Cornerstone URC in Hudsonville, MI)

The Psalter Hymnal’s single versification of Psalm 127 is excellent, with a balanced blend of accuracy and poetic liberty.  If I were assigned the task of revising this version I might be tempted to substitute another two-syllable adjective for “stalwart sons” in the fourth stanza, to avoid any possible misconceptions of this word choice.  The only oddity in this setting occurs in the very last line, where “He shall not be put to shame when he speaks with his enemies in the gate” is versified as “No enemies by him are feared,/No lack of love, no want of care.”  Merely reworking that line, nevertheless, would make this a nearly immaculate text.

ILLA, the tune, is a typical (and solid) Lowell Mason offering reminiscent of other tunes like HAMBURG (“When I Survey”).  It requires no extraordinary vocal or instrumental feats; indeed, the only thing that needs attention is the speed—I like a tempo just a bit faster than 60 beats per minute.

Perhaps the most obvious use of number 269 in worship would be as a response to a baptism.  But don’t be afraid to use it in other settings as well, especially when focusing on the ever-present problems of busyness and anxiety.  How comforting it is to be reminded that “God gives to His beloved sleep.”

–MRK

Congregational Song: Hard Times or Hard Hearts?

“They Just Don’t Sing Like They Used To.”  The headline jumped out at me as I meandered through the vast and oft-unhelpful expanses of the world-wide web.  The article, by Princeton Theological Seminary professor Martin Tel, purported to analyze “Why Congregational Singing Has Fallen on Hard Times.”  It appeared in an online archive of Reformed Worship magazine from June 2007.  Absent-mindedly I added it to my bookmarks, intending to return to it at a later date.

Eventually I found the article again, and this time I investigated it a little further.  Reformed Worship, I learned, is a quarterly magazine that aims to provide guidance on how to coordinate modern—well, Reformed worship.  As a product of the Christian Reformed Church’s publishing arm Faith Alive Christian Resources, Reformed Worship reflects many of the liberal leanings of this rather perplexing denomination.  But rather than throwing the baby out with the bathwater, I decided to at least offer this article the courtesy of my time and thought.  Today, I’d like to at least briefly evaluate Tel’s conclusions here.

Tel summarizes his thesis this way:

I’m all for improving congregational singing. In fact, I’m passionate about it. But rather than jumping to solutions, I’d like to dwell a little bit more on the problem. Why don’t people sing like they used to? If we spend some time considering the problem, our solutions may be better grounded.

Tel evaluates four short phrases that he identifies as the roots of the congregational singing crisis.  At the very least, his evaluation is extremely interesting.  These are the problems Tel identifies:

  • “I can’t sing”: Congregants are often too reluctant or embarrassed to sing.  Tel says, “More and more today we are observing an epidemic of people sensing that they cannot sing well enough.…We are surrounded by music, much of it sung.…But in fact we are not a singing culture.  We are a culture that is sung to.  Most of this music is produced professionally through a series of edits that in essence artificially removes all ‘imperfection.’  The net result of being immersed in all this ‘perfect’ music is that we feel ashamed of our imperfection.  And this shame leads many to silence.”
  • “I only hear myself”: Tel blames much of the singing problem on poor acoustics in modern church buildings, and (though this blends with the third point) he notes that the prioritization of comfort in our worship atmosphere (sound-absorbing carpets, cushions, curtains, and so on) has degraded the quality of the sound we produce.
  • “I can’t hear myself”: Using the analogy of the rood screen that separated the clergy from the laity in medieval churches, Tel points to a harmful “sound barrier” formed when amped worship teams drown out congregations.  “They are, in essence, being screened out.”
  • “I don’t know the song”: Tel explores multiple factors in congregations’ limited familiarity with a broad musical repertoire, but he makes a surprising proposition.  Perhaps, he says, the repertoire of the church is too big to begin with.   Tel refers to the Reformed churches in the Netherlands, whose congregational singing about fifty years ago was possibly unprecedented—and he notes that prior to 1972 their repertoire was limited to the 150 Psalms and less than 100 hymns.

Overall, I’m inclined to agree with the author regarding these specific areas.  His evaluation of our culture’s impact on congregational singing is very insightful; his critique of the effects of building acoustics and worship teams, in my opinion, is spot-on.  And I love that the last point highlights the benefits of a solid psalm-based congregational repertoire.

But did Tel miss something?  While these might all be significant factors in the downfall of congregational singing, let’s not forget that singing is a divine commandment, and any of our excuses for not singing primarily present a problem of the heart.  God’s people should sing his praises regardless of the acoustics of their sanctuary or the unfamiliarity of the song.  When our priorities are straight, those minor factors can easily be resolved.  Certainly we should recognize the problems confronting congregational singing today, but let’s not put all the blame on our surroundings.  As we consider Tel’s comments, let’s remember that any singing is pointless if not for the glory of God.

Read the original article here.

–MRK

Sing a New Song, Chapter 6: Singing Kings

Have you ever heard the psalms described as “the hymns of Christ”?  In Chapter 6 of Sing a New Song, this phrase takes on a completely new meaning.  Today in our ongoing study of this book we’re discussing an essay by Michael LeFebvre entitled “The Hymns of Christ: The Old Testament Formation of the New Testament Hymnal.”

MRK: Although I initially dreaded a boring historical lecture as I began Chapter 6, I was pleasantly surprised.  In fact, by the time I had finished reading, this chapter had become my favorite so far!  While LeFebvre does delve into the hymnological history of ancient Israel, his presentation is both convincing and relevant.

JDO: LeFebvre’s main thesis is that the book of Psalms was collected and compiled much later than we might expect. Even though it’s located in the middle of the Old Testament, it was probably one of the last books to be completed.  To provide some context for this thesis, LeFebvre outlines the history of singing throughout the Old Testament.

He starts with the time of the Patriarchs in Genesis.  We know that singing and music was an early development in the history of mankind (Genesis 4:20-22).  However, nothing in Genesis explicitly links singing to worship.  The Patriarchs’ worship focused on “sacrifice and prayer” (p. 93).  It wasn’t until the time of Moses and worship in the Tabernacle that singing became an integral part of the Old Testament church’s worship.

MRK: It’s interesting that even early on in Israelite history, God commanded Moses to write a song for the people.  This shows the importance of singing, and more specifically the importance of written songs as opposed to mere oral traditions.  It also establishes an inspired songbook as a companion to the book of the law; LeFebvre points out that “Israel’s first ‘Bible’ and first ‘hymnal’ were published at the same time” (p. 94).

JDO: He focuses especially on the song of warning in Deuteronomy 32 and the song of blessing in Deuteronomy 33 as crucial entries in Israel’s songbook.  Deuteronomy 31 makes it clear that these two songs were compiled into some sort of hymnal.  The song of the Red Sea (Ex. 15) or the psalm of Moses (Ps. 90) may have been included in this collection as well; we don’t know.  We do know that by the end of Moses’ ministry, singing was not only an important part of Israel’s religious identity, but also a crucial component of God’s regulations for worship.

LeFebvre then moves on to the pre-Davidic period, in which he notes references to several other songs.  He mentions the mysterious “Book of the Wars of Yahweh” (referenced in Numbers 21) as probably a collection of battle songs, and “The Book of Yashar” (referenced in Joshua 10 and II Samuel 1) as a tabernacle hymnal.  He offers quite a bit of evidence, and although it is admittedly speculative, this theory seems to hold ground as plausible evidence for a thriving practice of hymn-singing in early Israelite worship.

MRK: “It was with David’s rise to the throne that a major shift took place in Old Testament worship,” says LeFebvre (p. 97).  This involved “the centralization of worship in Jerusalem and the production of a new line of hymnody” as a result of God’s new covenant with David.  He makes the intriguing suggestion that David actually composed the psalms as part of his preparations for the Solomonic temple.

Now, I don’t know about you, Jim, but it’s always bugged me that the Psalter is often referred to as “the Psalms of David.”  After all, David certainly didn’t write all the psalms; what about Moses, Asaph, the sons of Korah, and so on?  But LeFebvre’s explanation was eye-opening: “Even though the psalms were not all personally written by David, they were all identified with his throne…because of the special covenant God had established with his throne as Israel’s eternal head” (pp. 99, 100).

JDO: Right.  Rather, the title “the Psalms of David” conveys that David and his descendants compiled the Psalter, and that its contents are focused on that Davidic line.  Additionally, LeFebvre makes the case that the Davidic kings led Israel not only in political and military capacities but as the song-leaders of Israel.  “The royal office, in ancient Israel, was a sacral office as well as a political one.”

MRK: LeFebvre presents evidence that the temple hymn library was surprisingly extensive.  Solomon composed 1,005 songs (I Kings 4:32), and an extra-biblical source attributes 4,050 songs to David.

JDO: Certainly there were many more than 150 psalms in use during the Old Testament.  This just raises the question, “Why these?”  Why do we have only 150, and why these specific 150?  In the next section of his chapter, LeFebvre gives some excellent answers.

MRK: In the sack of Jerusalem by the Babylonians in 587 BC, “we can only imagine what might have happened to the law books, songbooks, and other texts kept in the temple library.  Many texts may have been lost forever in the temple conflagration.  Others must have been hastily stashed into caves ahead of the approaching Babylonian armies, and some were evidently carried away to Babylon” (p. 101).  But fast forward a few decades: the Babylonians were overthrown by the Persians, who permitted the Jews to return to Jerusalem and rebuild.  Enter Ezra.

JDO: In both Jewish and Christian tradition, Ezra is credited with re-collecting the psalms into their present form, though it might have been someone else working during his time period.  We know that the psalms as we know them must have been collected during post-exilic times due to the inclusion of several exilic (Psalm 137) and even post-exilic (Psalm 126) songs.

MRK: This is where I started getting really excited about LeFebvre’s chapter—he goes on to investigate the amazing literary and historical patterns present within the Psalter.

JDO: Yes, this is where we get the payoff.  If Ezra (or someone working for him) collected the psalms, why did he do it? And why these psalms?  Believing in the providence of God as we do, we can’t simply assume that this is a random collection hastily thrown together.

MRK: LeFebvre points first to a relationship between the Ezran Psalter and the Pentateuch: both containing five books, both centered on the Law of God (cf. Psalm 1).  This hearkens back to his earlier note about the close relationship between the Scriptures and the hymns of pre-Davidic Israel.

He presents the surprising statistic that “a conservative assessment identifies close to a third of the Psalter as royal psalms” (p. 103).  It might seem odd that these royal psalms would be preserved in the post-exilic period without a king on the throne, but this makes sense once we understand Christ as the Singer of the psalms—but more on that later.

LeFebvre next considers the Psalter’s division into books, proposing that “the first three books of the Psalter are structured around Israel’s faith in the (now fallen) Davidic dynasty, and the last two books uphold hope in the restoration and future fulfillment of the Davidic covenant.  It is fitting to conclude, therefore, that the post-exilic Psalter was a hymnal prepared for a coming heir to David’s throne” (p. 104).  That coming heir was Christ.

JDO: Really, that point just blew my mind.  Here at URC Psalmody, we always emphasize that Christ is the chief Singer of the psalms, or that all the psalms point to Christ.  But LeFebvre goes further—he says that the psalms were collected with the coming of Christ explicitly in view.  This was a carefully chosen, precisely organized hymnal put together with the sole purpose of preparing the way for Jesus, the coming heir to the Davidic throne.  Ezra and company were waiting for the day when a new Davidic king would re-establish himself as the ruler of God’s people and their chief song-leader.  So they got a songbook ready for him.  That songbook is our Psalter, and that Davidic King is Christ.

The distinct thrust of each book within the Psalter can be seen by looking at what LeFebvre calls “seam psalms”—the first and last psalms within each book.

MRK: Yes.  Never before had I noticed the connection between Psalm 2 at the beginning of the first book (Psalm 1 is often considered a “preface”) and Psalm 72 at the end of the second book.  They’re completely complementary!  In the third book I was struck by the balance of exilic psalms (79 and 80 for example) with songs of longing for Zion (e. g. 84, 87) and God’s promised faithfulness (e. g. 73, 76).  This internal tension mounts throughout the book, culminating in the abysmal Psalm 88 and the heart-rending cry of Psalm 89 (which might be viewed as the climax of the whole Psalter):

Lord, where is your steadfast love of old,
which by your faithfulness you swore to David?
Remember, O Lord, how your servants are mocked,
and how I bear in my heart the insults of all the many nations,
with which your enemies mock, O LORD,
with which they mock the footsteps of your anointed.

–Psalm 89:49-51 (ESV)

JDO: LeFebvre points out that the fourth and fifth books “answer the crisis raised by books 1-3, anticipating the fulfillment of the Davidic covenant” (p. 106).  Or, to use his vivid analogy:

Like one of those photomontages where numerous little pictures are arranged in a way that forms a bigger picture, the individual psalms and psalm groupings of Book 4 provide a picture of the inviolable reign of the heavenly King and remember His faithfulness to the Abrahamic covenant, even long before the anointing of King David.  On this basis, they lead us in repentance—with great expectation.

(p. 105)

MRK: The fifth book contains the resolution of the entire Psalter, with “Diaspora [dispersion] saints joyously anticipating the victorious ingathering of God’s people from all corners of the earth in a new fulfillment of the Exodus-Sinai-Zion story.”

JDO: The whole book of Psalms, therefore, is pointed at one thing: the coming of a new Davidic heir.  The Psalter moves “from promise through disaster to renewed promise and expectation” (p. 107).

LeFebvre wraps up this analysis with an immensely important point.  If it’s true that the Davidic king was the song-leader of Israel, if it’s true that the book of Psalms was collected to prepare for the coming of Christ, then viewing the psalms as “Christ-centered” begins to mean so much more.  The Psalms are not simply “about Jesus” in some nebulous way.  Rather, they are a collection of divinely-inspired songs written and collected for use by the church of Christ.

MRK: How true.  Personally, I was blown away by the realization that David as the singing king of Old Testament Israel was a picture of Christ, the singing King of kings.  And if David spoke through the psalms, Christ infinitely more!

LeFebvre concludes his chapter, like the previous chapters in SaNS, with some practical implications of his study.

  1. Not surprisingly, “the Psalter should be sung in the church.  It is not simply a book to be read in devotions or preached (though it is all that), but it is also a hymnal to be sung by the church in worship.…The Psalter is designed for the Israel of Christ, and the church should sing it” (p. 109).
  2. We need to oppose the mentality that the church sings as a choir performing for God.  Instead, LeFebvre suggests that the congregation is a “backup ensemble” singing along with Christ, the Great Soloist.
  3. The point that struck me the most—the Psalter is not yet fulfilled.  “We still look forward to the full ingathering of God’s people from all nations, the submission of kings and nations in reverence before Christ, the purging of sin from our communities, and the final consummation of all things held out in the Psalms, climaxing in the final joyous moment when ‘every thing that hath breath [will] praise the LORD’” (p. 110).

Amen!  We look forward with longing to that glorious day.

Next time, we’ll turn to the difficult topic of imprecatory psalms as we consider Chapter 7 of Sing a New Song, by David P. Murray, entitled “Christian Cursing?”

Until then,

–JDO/MRK


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