Saturday, May 9, 2015

Psalms as Hymns of the Church

"The book of Psalms is not a theological textbook," writes Tremper Longman III in his author's preface for his new book  Psalms, which is volume 15 and 16 of the new version in Tyndale's Old Testament Commentary (TOTC) now available from IVPress. But rather, Longman writes: it is "the libretto of the most vibrant worship imaginable." He claims that the Psalms "not only want to inform our intellect, but to stimulate our imagination, arouse our emotions and stir us on to holy thoughts and actions." Is he right? Could 150 poetic hymns and songs, with laments firmly imbedded in their contents, do that for us? I wonder.......

Longman, who is Robert H. Gundry Professor of Biblical Studies at Westmont College, Santa Barbara, CA, quickly tells us that "even though the laments outnumber the hymns, the predominant note is praise." O.K., that caught my attention and he goes on to explain that each one has a title, Many of the titles include the name of the author, but some titles refer to historical events or liturgy or tunes, or for teaching. The 150 are offered as 5 books, each book having its title and purpose. Longman refers to Psalms 1 and 2 as the beginning or introduction with the closing 5 of the 150 in a doxology. He thinks that stepping back and looking at the way it begins with laments but ends with the last 5 poems in praise may bring us to think that God is "turning our wailing into dancing."

Longman studies each Psalm under the headings of Context, Comment, and Meaning. Readers may follow him through their favorite, maybe Ps. 117, the shortest; or the longest, Ps. 119; or perhaps Ps. 22 with its special application to the death of Christ, often remembered during Lent. Choose a favorite and you will soon be caught up in the lure, mystery, and love of God for his people.....

Tremper does believe there is theology in the Psalms but, as poetry they "arouse the readers' emotions, stimulate their imagination, and appeal to their will. For these purposes, poetry is most effective." He reminds us that as early as the fourth century, Athanasius was saying. 'the Psalms are an epitome of the whole Scriptures,'" And "Basil, Bishop of Caesarea, noted that 'the Psalms are a compendium of all theology.'" Some of today's theologians are following in the way.

A point that I like is that Longman thinks the "prominent mention of tora in Psalm 1 signals that the Psalter is to be read as tora [the 5 books of Moses]." In other words, David's tora is to be read "alongside the tora of Moses" and "this prompts the reader to expect tora in the rest of the Psalter and to be guided by it." Perhaps one could or should mentally fast-forward and think about possibilities for someday.....when Christians and Jewish believers  may be worshiping God together.

---Lois Sibley,
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