Thursday, February 5, 2015

Reading the Psalms as a Prayerbook for God's Missional People (Part 4 of 4)

Part one

Part two

Part three

The following concludes our essay on the Psalms as Prayerbook for God's Missional Peoplel

The Psalms remain filled with hope for God’s victory and growth of God’s kingdom. This hope centers on God’s people’s recognition that the LORD is the true king of Israel and all creation. As we noted earlier, the Psalter ends with a call for all creation to praise the LORD: “Let everything that has breath praise the LORD” (150:6). What is the means of this hope? It is not in humanity or humanity’s institutions. For example, Psalm 89 laments the loss and failure of the Davidic monarchy. The hope of the Psalter focuses on the kingship of God over God’s kingdom (see especially Pss 90–99). This hope is epitomized by the expressions “The LORD is king” or “The LORD reigns” (93:1, 95:3, 96:10, 97:1, and 99:1). These psalms remind God’s people that security and the future depends on God’s power and leadership. This is good news as Scripture consistently reminds us of the foibles and frailty of humanity.

As we saw in our  review of Israel kingship, it is critical to understand YHWH’s lordship, but there remains a human element in Israel’s hope. Psalm 2 introduced the idea of the LORD’s messiah as the human agent of God’s kingdom. The hope for the messiah as God’s agent of renewal and restoration remains alive throughout the Psalter. God is king, but God will reign through the hand of God’s messiah. Royal psalms about Israel’s kings such as Pss 2 or 110 became audacious prayers for God to renew David’s kingdom by raising up a new king to deliver them from the oppression of the nations and usher in a new age of salvation. The hymns of God’s kingship as well as the songs about Messiah maintain God’s people in a hopeful expectation for a good future despite any challenges or difficult circumstances faced in the present. In the New Testament, the book of Psalms is one of the most frequently quoted of Israel’s Scriptures. One of the main reasons for this is that the New Testament writers understand Jesus as the fulfillment of the Psalter’s messianic expectations.

The Psalter is anchored by three Torah psalms that extol the authority of Scripture and a continual meditation on it as the way of life. The three Torah psalms are Pss 1, 19, and 119. Their location is critical. As noted above, Psalm 1 serves as part of the Psalter’s hermeneutical introduction by articulating the happy life for the individual through the constant reflection on the Torah. Book 1 (Pss 1–41) are principally laments, but about halfway through, the Psalter’s editors provide another Psalm (Ps 19) that reminds its readers of the crucial role and power of the Torah for transforming the lives of God’s people. Lastly, in Book Five (Pss 107–150), Ps 119 serves as a massive reminder of the importance of Scripture. The Psalter is steadfast in its affirmation and confession of God’s kingship, but Scripture is the means of shaping Israel’s king and all God’s people into holy and missional community that will serve Creation’s true king. Ps 119 with its 176 verse treatment of the power of Scripture anchors the final psalms in preparation for the Psalter’s concluding symphony of praise hymns in Pss 146–150.

A missional reading of the Psalter reads the interplay of these various psalm types as a means of shaping and securing God’s missional people as they live among the nations as a witness to the true God. The God who created the world and called a people to himself to serve as his ambassadors provides God’s people with the gift of the Psalms to give them prayers for all occasions (both messy and magnificent).

Now let us engage the world while praying without ceasing (1 Thes 5). 

© 2015 Brian D. Russell

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