PSALTER RECLAIMED ESSSAY
AN ASSIGNMENT SUBMITTED TO DR. HEISER
October 4, 2015
Let me start out with saying this book was incredibly difficult to read and I was unable to read the entire thing. It is this author’s hope to complete this assignment with some competence despite the lack of reading of Wenham’s text. The Psalter is one of the most important books to the growth of the Christian. In this paper we will discuss its role to the Christian’s understanding of the nature of worship, the Messiah, and biblical ethics (focusing on Wenham’s treatment of the imprecatory Psalms).
The Nature of Worship
What role does the psalter contribute to the Christian’s understanding of the nature of worship? It can and probably should be argued that it contains everything a Christian needs to worship. The book contains more material than some may realize on the nature of worship. Why? Because it was used by the Jews for worship long before “Christians” came along. There are many ways we can understand their use in worship. First, the understanding of what worship is will make a huge difference in knowing the use of the psalter. Worship is showing an expression to God of his worth. It can take place in many different forms, from prayer, meditation, singing, or even Scripture memorization.
The Psalms are perfect for all of these options of worship. Monks have used the psalter for all of these means of worship for centuries. They seem to know something the average believer tends to overlook. Gordon Wenham makes a point when he says, “The Psalms differ from other parts of the Bible in that they are meant to be recited or sung as prayers. That makes them public address to God.” We should be spending time praying the Psalms regularly according to Wenham. In praying the Psalms we come closer to the heart of God, because they were written by men who were known to be close to God, David for instance was known as the “man after God’s heart.” The Psalms make great prayers because they cover the whole gambit of emotion whether one is lowly or abounding in joy. There are psalms of praise for the moments we recognize the greatness of God, then there are psalms of lament when we think things are not going as we anticipated, along with psalms of thanksgiving.
The Messianic Nature of the Psalms
Throughout the book of Psalms you will find many different ones that point to Christ, whether it is his rule, his death or his life in general there is a great number of psalms which speak about Christ. While some of them are more explicit than others, the ones which are more implicit just need to have proper interpretation. One psalm that has been considered messianic for centuries is Psalm 2, and Wenham tells the story of being told it was merely about David’s coronation, but he asserts that is one of the “assured results” of criticism. While Wenham does a decent job of covering the ideas about the Psalms and their messianic nature a better treatment is that of Richard Belcher Jr. in The Messiah and the Psalms. In his work he covers a multitude of options when dealing with messianic nature of the Psalms, ranging from the Christological approach, several ways of looking at the indirect (or implied) messianic psalms, the royal psalms and of course the messianic psalms. One of the hardest sections of the psalms to find Christ in can be the royal psalms, but above all we must take the opportunity to recognize Christ in these psalms and that they are not merely about a certain temporal king. Let us take Psalm 45 as an example, it has had some argument that it was never intended to be seen as a messianic psalm, however it is hard to reconcile the mentioning of God in verse 6 apart from it. Belcher suggests, “If 45:6 ultimately refers to Christ, how do we understand the rest of the psalm in relationship to Christ? The best approach is a typological approach that sees the event of the royal wedding of the king as a type of the relationship between Christ the king and his bride, the church.” While not every psalm should be read in a typological sense there are times such as this when it is best served to be read in this manner. Then you have Psalms like Psalm 22 which are directly quoted by Christ on the cross, other portions of the psalm are depictions of the things which wold happen to him. It is hard for a person to deny the facts of Psalm 22 when read in conjunction with the Gospel accounts of Christ’s crucifixion. Another direct Psalm is Psalm 40, because verses 6-8 are quoted in Hebrews 10:5-7 Belcher does point out that not everyone agrees Psalm 40 should be seen as messianic because of the confession of sin in verse 12.
A question that arises is, “Does every verse of a psalm have to be in line with the others for the psalm to be considered messianic?” Do not the apostles and even Christ himself take verses from the OT and mix and match them to make a point? It would seem to reason that if a verse can be used in such manner by these men then our understanding of the Psalms can be based off of a portion of a Psalm and not the entire thing. While Psalm 22 is one of the greatest examples of a messianic psalm it alone is not the only one that points to Christ either in part or in whole.
Nature of Biblical Ethics in the Psalms (Imprecatory Psalms)
One of the most difficult portions of Scripture to reconcile is that of the imprecatory psalms because we often think of God as Love and not vengeful. While this tends to be challenging to Christians it was not as much of a challenge to OT Jews. Wenham has an entire chapter on the nature of the imprecatory psalms and how they have been viewed by men of different traditions, men such as John Calvin, A.F. Kirkpatrick, Derek Kidner, Erich Zenger, and Alec Motyer.
The problem most people encounter with the imprecatory psalms is the Psalms are supposed to be this nice comfortable book speaking about the goodness of God and his deliverances, etc. Not a book of sorrow or anger or vengeance. To be honest I think most people when they read the Psalms can tend to gloss over and not fully take in what they are reading. Another reason these Psalms are not troublesome to some people is because as “Kidner goes on to urge that we recognize the language as hyperbole giving an insight into the “desperation that produced them.””
There is a quote Wenham uses by Kirkpatrick that does not seem to fit well with a proper understanding of 2 Timothy 3:16. Kirkpatrick asserts that these psalms must be viewed in regards to the dispensation of the OT and all which that entails. Wenham also brings up a saying which this author doesn’t find in Scripture when he says, “The Old Testament had not learned “to distinguish between the evil man and evil’ to the the sinner while hating the sin.” I am not sure where this principle gets its basis. However, we need to learn to temper the imprecatory psalms with a view of God’s justice given to us through Christ. As it has been said the OT authors may not have fully expected theses things to happen to those they wrote about while the NT believer may have different expectations.
This work while hard to digest offered some valuable insights into what I believed by either challenging what I thought I understood or helping to solidify my understanding. Wenham could have written in a manner that was more accessible to the average person while still covering this topic in a thorough manner. It would have been a much better read had it felt more coherent and not as disjointed at points throughout the book. I could not help but find myself almost audibly making arguments against certain points of view, especially in the messianic and imprecatory chapters.
In the end this book may not have done exactly what it set out to do, but it did challenge this author and his understanding of the way the Psalms have been used/viewed throughout the history of the church. If there were only one book available on the topic of the Psalter, hopefully it would not be this one, because the topics covered still feel a little mis-developed.
Belcher Jr., Richard P. The Messiah and the Psalms. Glasgow: Mentor, 2006.
Wenham, Gordon. The Psalter Reclaimed. Wheaton: Crossway, 2013.