Week Twenty-One Reading Assignment:
Job 25 - Psalms 5
“The Bible is timeless. In its central meaning it is never ‘dated.’ It speaks eternal truth to every generation as it comes. The fiercest criticism leaves its spiritual truth undimmed."
This Week's Teaching Video: Introduction to the Psalms
Psalms to Hymns: by Isaac Watts
We see that Watts' treatment of Psalm 1 follows very carefully the order the Psalm itself.
In verse 1, the hymn writer chooses somewhat stronger terms for the attitude of the righteous man. Rather than simply stating where he does not stand, sit, and walk, Watts uses strong words like "shuns," "fears," and "hates."
Watts' picture of the tree includes this helpful phrase: "fruits of holiness." We do well to consider individually just what "fruits of holiness" are, as well as whether they are the produce of our lives.
Finally, in verse 5, Watts does not hesitate to understand the Old Testa-ment Psalm in the light of Christ. This is an interpretive pattern that we see again and again in his Psalm-hymns. Watts believes, along with the writers of the New Testament, that the Old Testament anticipates and points to Jesus. Both Testaments, you see, bear witness to Him. And so, even though He is not explicitly mentioned in this Psalm, it is appropriate for us to perceive His rightful place in the testimony.
I have shared with the members of my churches along the way that there is no close second to the Bible in importance in a Christian's life. But if there were an election for "second," I would vote for a hymnal. Not necessarily the hymnal of my church and denomination -- but some hymnal. For I believe in the profound impact of theology, prayer, and testimony being put to music. Furthermore, I think it is evident from Scripture that God uses music for His purpose and His glory.
Meanwhile, there is a kind of hymnal within the Bible itself. The Book of Psalms has sometimes been called "Israel's Hymnal," for the thinking is that this collection of poems functioned in the life of ancient Israel in much the same way that our hymnals function in our churches today. And as we read the Psalms, we will observe the many correlations.
Both the Book of Psalms and a hymnal are collections. And those collections feature a variety of authors writing over the course of many centuries and reflecting a tremendous breadth of experiences, moods, and occasions. Both the Psalms and the hymns come out of various settings and are conse-quently useful in various settings. The man or woman of God with either the Book of Psalms or the hymnal in hand, therefore, has something appropriate to sing at any time and place, on any occasion, or in any mood.
Meanwhile, the Book of Psalms was not Israel's hymnal alone. Church historians observe that the Psalms probably also served a similar sort of function for the early church. And well into western church history, we still see evidence that the Book of Psalms was the primary source of lyrics for singing in the church.
One person who was especially instru-mental in helping the church sing the Psalms was Isaac Watts. The late 17th- and early 18th-century English poet and clergyman was a prolific hymn writer. And one of his most significant efforts was to turn the Psalms into rhyme and meter so that they could be sung to the tunes familiar to English Christians.
During our weeks of reading the Book of Psalms, we will introduce and reflect on a variety of Watts' rewritten Psalms. We will find that they offer insight into the text for us, as well as provide us with both inspiration and devotional application of the material that we are reading. Our first sample is found in the adjacent column, and we'll include other samples in succeeding weeks.