Have you ever been puzzled by the Psalms? Many of these beautiful Hebrew poems are obviously prayers, and it doesn't seem natural to most of us merely to read them as if we were listening in on someone else's conversation with God. In times of joy or deep sorrow and confusion don't you frequently enter into the spirit of the Psalms and pray them as your own? But then, with your heart fully engaged in prayer, you come upon those phrases that seem so shocking--so diametrically opposed--to all you've been taught in Christian love and forbearance.
How are you to understand a prayer from Scripture that says, "Break the teeth in their mouths, O God" (Ps. 58:6) or "Let death take my enemies by surprise; let them go down alive to the grave" (Ps. 55:15)? That's strong language!
Have you wondered whether the psalmist's prayers, "May all my enemies be ashamed and dismayed; ...may they perish in disgrace" (6:10; 83:17) are an expression of sinful revenge, as some writers say? Is he guilty of expressing worldly sentiments of revenge as in a newspaper classified ad I saw recently?
Jilted? Stood up? Divorced? Fired? Whatever your meaningless memory, now you can wilt 'em away with a wilted bouquet! Just call Wilted Flowers, your therapeutic floral consultants, and put a little happiness in your hurt.
Do you think the psalmist is indulging such spiteful feelings?
Too many sincere Christians rush past such expressions as if shielding their faces from the heat of hatred, quickly moving on to other sections where they find more comfortable language. (There are so many soothing phrases in the Psalms!) But can that be a proper response to any part of God's Word? Or is it merely a cop-out?
The problem is bigger than many realize! The more carefully we look at the Psalms, the more we see that the prayers for vengeance are not a handful of side comments. They are not found in just a few isolated places so that we can overlook them and decide that it may not be worth our time to try to understand them. They pervade the book! Then we begin to recognize that other portions of the Old Testament express similar ideas. We even find them restated by our Lord and His apostles in the New Testament!
Have you who accept the Scripture as the only rule of faith and practice grappled with these issues? Have you who are called to handle correctly the word of truth sought to apprehend the truths taught here so as to be able to break this bread for God's people?
Serious Bible students have puzzled over these problems for centuries, so if you find yoursefl perplexed, don't be surprised. Some people have found it so difficult to understand these perplexing prayers that they have concluded that these segments were mistakenly included in the Word of God. But our doctrine of inspiration must lead us to expand our knowledge of God and His ways as we seek solutions to these deep questions. There are answers, and it is our business as followers of the Most High God to apply ourselves to understand His Word so that we will find them. What an exciting assignment is now set before us!
The book of Psalms is unique among the sixty-six books of the Bible in that it is a prayer book given to us by God. Later we'll discuss in more depth our need for this prayer book from God and how we are to use it in our Christian lives and preaching. For now let's recognize that giants of the church through the ages have found deep mines of truth here and that the hearts of New Testament believers today beat a responding "Amen" to it expressions of comfort, contrition, and praise.
John Calvin, the great theologian of the Reformation, wrote a very extensive commentary on this prayer book of the Bible. In the preface to his classic volumes on the Psalms the Reformer speaks of the heavenly doctrine in these prayers and stresses their importance for entering into "genuine and earnest prayer." His own experience of drawing near to God through these prayers is evident as he says,
In short, as calling upon God is one of the principal means of securing safety, and as a better and more unerring rule for guiding us in this exercise cannot be found elsewhere than in the Psalms, it follows, that in proportion to the proficiency which a man shall have attained in understand them, will be his knowledge of the most important part of celestial doctrine.
These God-given prayers become, in effect, the pathway on which God leads us upward to Himself.
Our Lord Jesus Christ and His apostles used the Psalms constantly in teaching men to know God. The New Testament directly quotes the Old Testament approximately 283 times. An astounding 41 percent (116 of the 283) of all these Old Testament quotations are from the Psalms. According to the gospel records, Christ Himself alluded to the Psalms over fifty times. To know God truly and to be equipped to lead others to a knowledge of Him we must read, learn, and inwardly digest these prayers.
My own experience with these prayers has brought me many times to sense God's very presence. As my understanding of them deepened through much study, comparing Scripture with Scripture, my prayer life has begun to enter into the very prayers of Jesus Christ. I've also been enabled to preach these psalms with great joy. It is my earnest desire to help you to learn how to rejoice in praying and preaching the Psalms of the Prince of Peace.