Week Twenty-Six Reading Assignment:
Psalms 98 - Psalms 120
"God, the Supreme Judge, not only took care to have His word, which is the 'power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth' (Romans 1:16), committed to writing by Moses, the Prophets, and the Apostles, but has also watched and cherished it with paternal care ever since it was written up to the present time, so that it could not be corrupted by craft of Satan or fraud of man. Therefore the Church justly ascribes it to His singular grace and goodness that she has, and will have to the end of the world, a 'sure word of prophecy' and 'Holy Scriptures' (2 Timothy 3:15), from which, though heaven and earth perish, 'one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass' (Matthew 5:18)."
(The Helvetic Consensus Formula, 1675)
(The Helvetic Consensus Formula, 1675)
This Week's Teaching Video: Jesus and the Psalms
Psalms to Hymns by Isaac Watts
Psalm 98 inspired Issac Watts' most famous hymn. And so, even though his poem does not follow the original Psalm as closely and deliberately as most of the samples we've chosen, how could we not include "Joy to the World"? It is among the most cherished Christmas carols in the world.
Upon further review, however, we may be surprised to note that the hymn is not at all based on a Christmas text. This is not the story of Jesus' birth. It is not about shepherds and angels, wise men and gifts, mangers and stables. Indeed, a close examination of the text of the hymn reveals that it is not explicitly a Christmas carol, at all.
Psalm 98 is mostly a song inviting the universal praise of God. It extols His majesty, salvation, triumph, justice, and righteousness. And, toward the end, it declares that the Lord "cometh to judge the earth." Watts takes that prospect of the Lord coming to judge as a messianic promise.
We understand that Christ has come and that He will come again. His first coming was humble: marked by service and sacrifice. His second coming, on the other hand, will bring a final triumph over evil and the culmination of His eternal reign. Watts' explication of Psalm 98 seems to be more an antici-pation of Christ's second coming than a recollection of His first.
Nevertheless, the birth of Jesus marks the beginning of the messianic age. The work was not completed in Bethle-hem, but it was begun. And so it is, indeed, a reason for "joy to the world!"
Another type of Psalm is the acrostic.
Buried, perhaps, beneath our English,
Can we appreciate these poems?
Disciplined in their construction,
Each acrostic is a masterpiece.
The acrostic poems in the Book of Psalms do not depend upon rhyme or meter. But, like the unusual paragraph above, the lines of the acrostic poems are organized alphabetically. And that is a poetic format that may be slightly lost in translation from the original Hebrew to our English Bibles.
We have nine different acrostic poems in the Psalms. Psalms 25, 34, and 145 are all straightforward one-verse acrostics. That is, each successive line begins with the next letter of the Hebrew alphabet.
Psalm 37 is also organized as an acros-tic, though its lines are longer, and so they are more than one verse each. By contrast, Psalms 111 and 112 are both acrostics with very short lines, and so there are typically two lines per verse in our English translations.
Psalms 9 and 10, meanwhile, combine to form a single acrostic. The alphabetized lines of a poem that begins in Psalm 9 are completed in Psalm 10.
And then there is Psalm 119. The longest chapter in the Bible, Psalm 119 is an acrostic magnum opus. The Psalm is carefully comprised of twenty-two (the number of letters in the ancient Hebrew alphabet) stanzas, and each stanza contains eight lines. Not only does each stanza begin with a successive letter of the alphabet; each line in each stanza begins with that letter.
In terms of English, therefore, Psalm 119 would be the equivalent of a 26-stanza piece in which the first eight lines all began with the letter A, the second set of eight lines all began with B, the third set of eight lines all began with C, and so on. It is an incredibly disciplined format. And while many of our Bibles will place a Hebrew letter above each stanza to suggest the format, it remains an easy thing for us to miss the intricacy of the Psalm in an English translation of it.
Earlier in our study of the Psalms, we noted and explored the phenomenon of parallelism in Hebrew poetry. The acrostic Psalms take that poetic disci-pline one step further. And while the parallelism is not lost in translation, our appreciation of the acrostics may be.
catch up calculator
Halfway there! If you've fallen behind in your reading, the next few weeks provide an excellent opportunity to catch up. The chapters in Psalms are generally shorter than most others in the Bible, and we'll spend the next several weeks reading in Psalms. Accordingly, in addition to the three or five Psalms that you are assigned to read each day, you could also read another chapter or two where your bookmark lags behind. Or use our catch-up calculator to see exactly how many chapters you would need to read each day in order to accomplish your end-of-the-year goal.