Week Twenty-Three Reading Assignment:
Psalms 29 - Psalms 51
“The Psalms express every significant religious feeling. These words are like a mirror to our own moral experience. Once we see this we will not hear the words nearly as much as we perceive the meaning. Instead of being recited from memory, they will flow from the depths of our inner being.”
This Week's Teaching Video: David and the Psalms
Psalms to Hymns: by Isaac Watts
Issac Watts' treatment of Psalm 47 is different than the earlier samples we have considered. This poem does not track so precisely the original text, but rather takes greater liberties. The spirit of the Psalm is preserved, to be sure, but the verse-by-verse correlation is not as tight.
Meanwhile, we see Watts take two interpretive steps in this Psalm that are worth our consideration.
In verse 2, Watts writes, "Jesus our God ascends on high" -- clearly a Christian insertion into an Old Testa-ment text. Nevertheless, Jesus Himself told His disciples that there was much written about Him in the Old Testament (see Luke 24:27, 44), and so it is fair for us to understand some texts in light of what we know about Him. Conse-quently, Watts sees in this triumphant Psalm of praise extolling God as King an anticipation of the exaltation and universal Lordship of Jesus.
In verse 6, meanwhile, Watts makes an anachronistic reference to "the British islands." This goes beyond the literal boundaries of the original text, of course, and yet it is an appropriate personalizing of the truth contained there. The Psalmist affirms that God is "King of all the earth." And so, while the ancient author did not know about the British islands, they are implicitly included.
It is right for God's people in every time and place to apply the truths of Scrip-ture to themselves. And here, in his treatment of Psalm 47, Watts embraces the truth about God's global reign for himself and for his people by including their homeland by name.
Character Profile: An Example to Us All
While we tend to associate the Book of Psalms with King David, the fact is that he Psalms were written by dozens of different people, many of whom are unknown to us. Taken all together, though, we often refer generically to “the Psalmist,” and we discover that “he” is an example to us all.
The Book of Psalms is mostly a collec-tion of prayers. And, as such, the Psalmist becomes our chief tutor and greatest resource when it comes to our own praying. Among the lessons he teaches us are these:
Prayer is appropriate for every occasion: victory, sickness, trouble, sin, glory, death, and more.
Prayer can come out of any mood or feeling: anger, hate, joy, fear, indignation, frustration, gladness, love, guilt, weariness, vengeance, and more.
The person of faith can be utterly honest with God in prayer: about what he has done, about what he wants, about what he feels, and even about what He thinks of God Himself.
The man or woman of God can pray in every station of life: from the king on the throne to the fugitive in hiding; from the guilty sinner to the godly saint; from walking in nature to fighting in battle.
Though circumstances of life change, God does not. Therefore, whatever the circumstances may be, God can always be praised, God can always be trusted, and the man or woman of God can always have hope in Him.
"The most valuable thing the Psalms do for me is to express that same delight in God which made David dance. I am not saying that this is so pure or so profound a thing as the love of God reached by the greatest Christian saints and mystics. But I am not comparing it with that, I am comparing it with the merely dutiful 'church-going' and laborious 'saying our prayers' to which most of us are, thank God not always, but often, reduced. Against that it stands out as something astonishingly robust, virile, and spontaneous; something we may regard with an innocent envy and may hope to be infected by as we read."
(C.S. Lewis, Reflections on the Psalms)