Is the Psalter “Out of Date”? (Part II)

This article as well as Part I was written in 1969.

“Law and Order” was the presidential campaign cry of 1968—and little wonder. As we review the varied spectrum of the events of 1968, we see a year of violence, riot, assassination, hate, war and student rebellions. It is an undebatable fact that there is in our day a wide disregard for law and a consequent chaos. We thank our God that President Nixon sees the need for a restoration of respect for law. However, according to his own admission, the President realizes that such respect cannot come by force but by renewal of the hearts of men. This is the need of the hour! A love for the law of God! And now we repeat the question contained in our title, is the Psalter (the Psalms) out of date? For our Biblical answer we turn to the classic chapter on regard for the law of God found in Psalm 119. The Psalmist finds his "delight" in the law (vs. 16); studying them is like finding a treasure (vs. 14); the law affects him like music, it is his "song" (vs. 54); it tastes like honey (vs. 103); it is better than silver or gold (vs. 72); it excites wonder (vs. 18). In this era, it is almost unbelievable to hear the inspired writer speak this way about the law of God! But, until and unless the hearts of men understand that in this law are contained the only well-grounded rules for living there will continue to be a chaotic SOciety which no police force, welfare program or secular education can change.

C. S. Lewis in his book, Reflections on the Psalms, says: “On three occasions the poet (psalmist) asserts that the Law is ‘true’ or ‘the truth’ (86, 138, 142). We find the same in Ps. 111, 7, ‘all his commandments are true.’ A modern logician would say that the Law is a command and that to call a command ‘true’ makes no sense; but I think we all see pretty well what the Psalmists mean. They mean that in the Law you find the ‘real’ or ‘correct’ or stable, well-grounded directions for living. The law answers the question ‘Wherewithal shall a young man cleanse his way?’ (119:9). It is like a lamp, a guide (105). There are many rival directions for living, as the Pagan cultures all round us show. When the poets call the directions or ‘rulings’ of Jahweh ‘true’ they are expressing the assurance that they, and not those others, are the ‘real’ or ‘valid’ or unassailable ones: that they are based on the very nature of things and the very nature of God.”1

C. S. Lewis goes on to say: “Hence His laws have emeth ‘truth,’ intrinsic validity, rock-bottom reality, being rooted in His own nature, and are therefore as solid as that Nature which He has created. But the Psalmists themselves can say it best, ‘Thy righteousness standeth like the strong mountains, thy judgments are like the great deep’ (36:6). Their delight in the Law is a delight in having touched firmness; like the pedestrian’s delight in feeling the hard road beneath his feet after a false short cut has long entangled him in muddy fields.”2

What will be the result in a society where all citizens love and live that law of God? The Psalms also answer that question: personal integrity, a life separate from wrongdoers, benevolence toward the poor, regard for constituted authority, obedience to law, love for brethren, love for enemies, good returned for evil, home life free from immorality, purity of thought and speech, contentment amid the ills of life, patience in the presence of the prosperous wicked, business honesty, sobriety, sincerity, hatred of every false way. Then there are many warnings against disobedience, lying, flattery, profanity, arrogance, oppression, extortion, tainted money, perjury, bribery, pride, deceit, dishonesty, covetousness, worry, and others. These sections of the Psalms read almost like a utopian novel. We can hardly believe that such a society is possible. But it is by the power of the Holy Spirit of God! May we all engage in intense prayer for our nation and our world, that God may open the eyes of the blind to see the wonderful truth of His Word! May He begin the work in us as we saturate ourselves with that Word and live and sing that Word from day to day!

Any praise book however, would be incomplete if it dealt with only the Law and not the precious Savior who kept that Law perfectly for our sakes. And so, contrary to the opinion of some, the Psalms do speak in abundance about the Christ. Jesus Himself testified of this when He quoted David's words from the Psalter to show that David called Him Lord and that therefore He was more than David’s son. In the upper room Jesus said: “These are my words which I spake unto you, while I was yet with you, that all things must needs be fulfilled which are written in the law of Moses and in the prophets, and in the Psalms concerning me.” When the author to the Hebrews spoke of the superiority of Christ to angels, the reality of His incarnation, the superiority of His priesthood, and the doctrine of His ascension to the right hand of Power, he considered the Book of Psalms as the source of authority. Of seven quotations from the Old Testament in the first chapter of Hebrews, six are from the Psalter. Furthermore, Christ’s three offices are set forth in the Psalms. As a prophet he says in Psalm 22, “I will declare Thy name unto My brethren”; and in the Fortieth, “I have proclaimed glad tidings of righteousness in the great assembly...! have declared Thy faithfulness and Thy salvation.” As to His priestly office, the Father says to Him in Psalm 110, “Thou art a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek.” In Psalm 40, we find Him entering upon the work of this office: “Lo, I am come; In the roll of the book it is written of Me; I delight to do Thy will, O my God.” His kingly office is declared in Psalm 2, “Yet have I set My King upon My holy hill of Zion,” and in the Forty-Fifth, “Thy throne, O God, is forever and ever. A scepter of equity is the scepter of Thy Kingdom.”

Dr. Robert Russell has described the "Messianic" Psalms in the following words: “... we find such minutiae of detail concerning His person and work as to make us wonder whether those who speak of a Christless Psalter have ever earnestly conned its pages. Do we think of His advent? There is for us a Christmas carol in Psalm 40, just where the author of the Hebrews found it when he wrote of Christ, Wherefore when He cometh into the world, He saith, ‘Sacrifice and offering thou wouldst not, But a body didst Thou prepare for me; In whole burnt offerings and sacrifices for sin Thou hadst no pleasure’: Then said I, ‘Lo, I am come to do Thy will O God.’”

Do we think of His gracious life as He moved, the sinless One, among sinners? Then we may sing the words of Psalm 45: ‘Thou art fairer than the children of men; Grace is poured into Thy lips: Therefore God hath blessed Thee forever...Thou hast loved righteousness and hated wickedness: Therefore God, Thy God, hath anointed Thee with the oil of gladness above Thy fellows.’ Would we sob forth the minor music that recounts His crucifixion? Then we have the Twenty-second Psalm, where almost every detail of His torture is delineated. Would we think of His triumph over death, and His coming forth from the grave with its key at His girdle, and the light of eternal morning on His brow? We can turn to the Sixteenth Psalm, singing of his triumph, ‘My flesh also shall dwell in safety. For Thou wilt not leave my soul to Sheol: Neither wilt Thou suffer Thy Holy One to see corruption. Thou wilt show me the path of life: In Thy presence is fulness of joy; In Thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore.’ Do we think of His ascension and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit? We can sing in the Sixty-Eighth Psalm, ‘Thou hast ascended on high; Thou hast led away captives; Thou hast received gifts among men, Yea, among the rebellious also, that Jehovah God might dwell with them.’ Following Him to His glorious coronation, we can sing with the angels that swept through the heavenly portals, the words of Psalm 24:7: ‘Lift up your heads, O ye gates; and be ye lifted up, ye everlasting doors; and the King of glory will come in." Waiting for His return to earth when He ‘shall appear a second time, apart from sin, to them that wait for Him, unto salvation,’ and crying with John of Patmos, ‘Amen: come, Lord Jesus,’ we can sing with the inspiration of faith the words of the Psalm which says, 'Our God cometh, and doth not keep silence; a fire devoureth before Him, and it is very tempestuous round about Him. He calleth to the heavens above, and to the earth, that He may judge His people: Gather My saints together unto Me, Those that have made a covenant with Me by sacrifice. And the heavens shall declare His righteousness; for God is Judge Himself.’ Would we celebrate the glory of His...reign? There is the seventy-second Psalm. The song of the King of whose reign we can say, ‘In His days shall the righteous flourish, And abundance of peace, till the moon be no more. His name shall endure forever; His name shall be continued as long as the sun; and men shall be blessed in Him; all nations shall call Him happy.’ Thus do the Psalms sweep in their scope of praise from the advent of the Redeemer as Bethlehem's Babe until His sovereign scepter shall be extended in blessing over all the earth.’3

Doctrine is a word which is being attacked today; but the Psalms are quite comprehensive in their treatment of the 1) doctrine of God; 2) doctrine of man; 3) doctrine of Christ; 4) and doctrine of the future. The Psalms portray a God who is infinite, eternal, unchangeable, of manifold wisdom. Our God is just, faithful, omnipresent, absolutely holy. About man we learn of the supreme place man had in the creative work of God and of the sad fact of his sinfulness. We see the grief of our God as He saw that all had sinned, and “There was none that did good.” Many phrases reveal not only God's hatred of sin, but also the bitter fruits of sin, its punishment and as a power that separates from God. Man is now a wanderer, and many are the expressions of broken-heartedness in the Psalms. The doctrine of Christ's work has already been laid out and the doctrine concerning the future can be found in a limited number of passages which speak of pleasures at God’s right hand forevermore and of God's house being the dwelling place forever.

One day I stood for a long time gazing at the tremendous span of the Mackinac Bridge and I marveled at the ingenuity of man in planning and executing such a feat! But as we stand back and gaze at the tremendous span of truth portrayed by the Psalmists under the inspiration of God Himself all we can say is, “Praise God from Whom all blessings flow!” And with praise to God this book of Psalms abounds. It is truly the devotional book of the Scriptures. It meets every need of anyone who would live near to God. And it is the expressed desire of the writers of the Psalms that all men everywhere share in this life of communion. It is a book filled with missionary zeal. How often do the Psalms, in one way or another, repeat the refrain, “Declare His glory among the heathen, His wonders among the people”! The Psalms breathe with prayers for the conversion of the world. May our merciful God grant the petitions of His people as they raise the prayers of these Psalms today!

Is the Psalter “out of date”? Most emphatically not! Hear the last exhortation of the Psalmist in Psalm 143 and 150:

“Praise Ye Jehovah: From the heavens in the heights, all his angels, all his host, sun and moon, stars of light, heavens of heavens, ye waters, ye sea monsters, all deeps, fire and hail, snow and vapor, stormy wind, mountains, hills, trees, beasts and cattle, birds, kings, all peoples, princes, judges, young men and virgins, old men and children! Praise Jehovah with: trumpet sound, psaltery and harp, timbrel and dance, stringed instruments and pipe, loud cymbals, high sounding cymbals.”

Let everything that hath breath praise Jehovah. Praise ye Jehovah! (Psalm 150:6) Amen! So let it be!

Footnotes

1. Lewis, C. S. Reflections on the Psalms. London: Geoffrey Bles Ltd., 1958, pp. 60, 61.

2. Ibid.

3. Mc Naugher, John. The Psalms in Worship. Pittsburgh: The United Presbyterian Board of Publication, 1907, pp. 220, 221.

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