Martin Luther called the Psalter “a little Bible. In it is comprehended most beautifully and briefly everything that is in the entire Bible.”1
If Luther’s claim is even half accurate, then for many years I have underappreciated an important book of Scripture.
I have attended churches that rarely mention the psalms; and I have attended others that incorporate psalms into worship regularly but without any explanation regarding the selection or meaning of any particular psalm. Therefore, I have decided to test Luther’s claim and perhaps discover what I have missed from the Psalter for many years.
So that my studies might also benefit others who are interested in, or curious about, the psalms, I intend to share what I am learning from the psalms in a series of articles, drawing on the many topics which we find addressed in them.
To orient our look into the psalms, I have incorporated into this first article the following introductory remarks concerning the psalms generally:
“The book of Psalms expresses the whole range of emotions that God’s people experience in this life. Nowhere will you find words expressing greater joy than in the psalms of praise and thanksgiving. Nowhere will you find words expressing deeper sorrow than in the psalms of repentance. Nowhere will you find more fervent expression of both the sorrows and the joys that life brings. The book of Psalms is a book for every occasion and for every season of life.”2
Like all of Scripture, the Psalter transcends time. It is a worship book within the Bible inspired by the Holy Spirit for the people of God in every generation. Summarizing Luther’s usage of the psalms:
“The psalmists asked for blessings and gave thanks for blessings as members of the covenant people of God, relying on God’s grace, trusting His promises, worshiping in His temple, receiving His forgiveness. Yet all of these – covenant, grace, promise, temple, forgiveness – found their fulfilment in Jesus Christ. Christ [says Luther] ‘is Himself the God whom we are exhorted to worship.’ When the psalmist exults that God’s ‘love endures forever,’ Luther responds that Christ ‘stands hidden’ in that phrase.”3
Luther divided the psalms into five groups: prophesy; instruction; comfort; prayer; and thanks.4 I will select psalms from each of these groups for upcoming articles.
With these introductory remarks in mind, let us begin our look into the psalms with one of the great psalms of praise:
Psalm 145: Praise to God, the King!
Psalm 145 is a psalm of thanksgiving for the kingdom of Christ, which was to come. This psalm belongs to the First Commandment with undivided worship of God the King who is above all things; the Second Commandment by using His name properly in praise and proclamation; and the Third Commandment by hallowing the genuine Sabbath with true worship and gladly hearing God’s Word. This psalm also belongs to the first petition of the Lord’s Prayer, which prays for the hallowing of God’s name; and the second petition, which prays for His kingdom.
“A Song of Praise. Of David.
1 I will extol you, my God and King,
and bless your name forever and ever.
2 Every day I will bless you
and praise your name forever and ever.”
David, whom the Prophet Samuel anointed as king of an earthly monarchy, recognized that his God is the King over all creation. We cannot “extol” (i.e., exalt, praise, magnify, worship) Christ the King enough because it is His work as Redeemer which alone avails us before God. In this way we join in David’s vow to bless and praise the name of Christ the King both “forever and ever” and “every day.” “For David says about [Christ], ‘I saw the Lord always in front of me, for he is at my right hand so that I will not be shaken. Therefore my heart was glad and my tongue rejoiced; my body also will live in hope, because you will not leave my soul in Hades, nor permit your Holy One to experience decay. You have made known to me the paths of life; you will make me full of joy with your presence.’ ” (Acts 2:25-28)
“3 Great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised,
and his greatness is unsearchable.”
In Psalm 145, David alternates between sections of praise and sections of proclamation. Verse 3 is a burst of proclamation. We might ask why proclamation? St. Paul rhetorically asked: “And how are they to believe in one they have not heard of?” (Rom 10:14b)
God’s “greatness is unsearchable” (i.e., unfathomable, inscrutable). To an unbeliever, this attribute of God is only terrifying. Mankind is endowed with some natural knowledge of God: “For since the creation of the world his invisible attributes—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, because they are understood through what has been made” (Rom 1:20); but knowledge of His power and divine nature, without reconciliation through Christ the Mediator, only brings into sharp relief the contrast between the holy God and sinful man. In such a circumstance, man only fears God’s wrath, as, for example, Isaiah experienced in his vision: “And I said: ‘Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!’ ” (Isa 6:5)
The problem is that man cannot reason or observe our way from the unsearchable God to the Lord God, from sinner before a Holy God to adopted child before the Father in heaven. The only move fallen man, left to ourselves, is capable of making is to the cult of sacrifice in the hope of placating an unsearchable deity. Here Luther answers aptly:
“If the cross were not extolled through preaching, teaching, and confession, who could have ever thought of it, to say nothing of knowing it? But such is His kingdom and power, that He aided the fallen, called the needy to Himself, made sinners godly, and brought the dead to life.”5
Thus the Gospel of Christ and His kingdom must be preached, from one generation to the next. When one hears the grace of God proclaimed for him or her, e.g. – Christ “was given over because of our transgressions and was raised for the sake of our justification” (Rom 4:25), the Holy Spirit teaches us about the grace of God, who through faith makes us His children, and turns our focus away from the “unsearchable” God to “the Lord” who is “great.” In Christ, God’s “greatness” is now for us and becomes the source of great comfort, rather than a source of fear and trepidation about God’s unsearchable providential works in creation. Amen.
Thank you for reading. Next week, we will pick up Psalm 145 at verse 4 where David begins his second section of praise for the wondrous works of his God the King. Amen.
1 Ngien, Dennis. Fruit for the Soul: Luther on the Lament Psalms. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2015. Print. p. xviii.
2 Brug, John F. The People’s Bible Commentary: Psalms 1. rev. ed., St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1992. Print. p. 2-3.
3 Concordia Publishing House. Reading the Psalms with Luther. 2007. Print. p. 10.
4 Ibid. p. 14.
5 Ibid. p. 344.
“There are other people who are slowly becoming Christians though they do not yet call themselves so. There are people who do not accept the full Christian doctrine about Christ but who are so strongly attracted by Him that they are His in a much deeper sense than they themselves understand.
There are people in other religions who are being led by God’s secret influence to concentrate on those parts of their religion which are in agreement with Christianity, and who thus belong to Christ without knowing it.
For example, a Buddhist of good will may be led to concentrate more and more on the Buddhist teaching about mercy and to leave in the background (though he might still say he believed) the Buddhist teaching on certain other points.
Many of the good Pagans long before Christ’s birth may have been in this position. And always, of course, there are a great many people who are just confused in mind and have a lot of inconsistent beliefs all jumbled up together. Consequently, it is not much use trying to make judgments about Christians and non-Christians in the mass. It is some use comparing cats and dogs, or even men and women, in the mass, because there one knows definitely which is which. Also, an animal does not turn (either slowly or suddenly) from a dog into a cat.”
Huge thanks as always to EricL for the link help…support him at top right…
1. The Ravi Zacharias scandal has went just as I expected. He lawyered up, hired the standard PR firm, and used the mainstream Christian media whores to change the narrative to one that the insanely idolatrous free market celebrity church would accept. It will be accepted, accompanied by raging scorn for those who dared stand up to the machine.
If Nathan stood up to David today, David would hire a PR form, a host of attorneys, and sue the prophet into silence…
2. The prophetic ministry of the church today is almost solely being staffed by people with no resources except a computer, an internet connection, and the truth…and it’s going about as well for them as it did for many prophets of old who the enemies of God destroyed…
3. The reputable bloggers I know always have information that for one reason or another they can’t publish, usually to protect victims. It’s often the unpublished material that pushed them to publish in the first place. I will go to my grave with some things…and go to that grave early because of them…
4. What have we learned again? Never, never, repent, just ‘explain”… repentance is for losers and people who can’t afford lawyers…
5. It’s really hard to enjoy a football game when you’re waiting to find out if one of the participants will be paralyzed for life…this might be my last season trying…
6. When I look about at all the moral corruption and violence of this world and realize that this is the world Christ came to save in the Incarnation, wonder abounds…
7. I thought I’d given up my favorite sins to follow Jesus, then He had to mention my cynicism…
8. When that player was injured last night there were hundreds of comments on social media celebrating the injury. The next big reality show may feature lions and those deemed criminals by society…
9. The cure for cynicism is Advent…
10. Loving ones enemies is very difficult…because it requires that you have actual enemies before you can try to love them…Jesus wasn’t speaking hypothetically…
“No, you can’t tell people anything, you’ve got to show ’em.”
Born to Run
The Franco-Prussian war was in full fury. Prussian General August von Werder was laying siege to the French city of Strasbourg. He had decided to reduce the city through a massive and continuous bombardment. On 24 August 1870, Prussian artillery rained down shells on the city and destroyed Strasbourg’s Museum of Fine Arts and the Municipal Library. Thousands of manuscripts, rare books and ancient artifacts were destroyed. Among them was the sole surviving manuscript of the second century Epistle to Diognetus. Discovered in Constantinople in 1436, the manuscript had made its way across Europe, eventually coming to reside in Strasbourg. Now it lay in ashes. Thankfully, before its destruction, two accurate recensions had been made so, while the manuscript was lost, the message was not.
It causes one to wonder, how much has been lost through the centuries? From the destruction of the great library of Alexandria (first under the Romans, then under the Copts and finally under the Muslim conquest) down to the destruction of monastic libraries in our own time, by the former Marxist government in Ethiopia or the destructive rage of ISIS, tens of thousands of ancient Christian manuscripts and codices have been reduced to ashes. What treasures might have been among them? Perhaps the earliest Gospel manuscripts, or the original letters of Ignatius of Antioch, or some lost account of the Council of Nicaea? Perhaps Jerome’s list of sources as he prepared his Latin translation of the Bible? We will never know. Yet, in spite of the destruction of much that was written, the life of the Church has continued; and that life has been a greater witness to the truth of the Gospel than all the ancillary writings that have surrounded it.
Now, what of the text before us? Firstly, it has been mistakenly called an epistle or letter, owing to the document being addressed to one Diognetus. It is not a letter. It is, perhaps, one of the earliest examples that we have of an apology for the Christian faith. It has been postulated that this apology may have been written to the famed tutor of Marcus Aurelius, which may indicate a dating of c. 150. Another possibility, however, is a magistrate of the same name in Alexandria who is referenced in papyri dated between 197 and 203. On the other hand, it may have been addressed to a figure from antiquity who is wholly unknown to us. The style of the letter and the concerns raised within the text causes me to opt for the earlier date of the mid-second century. The text itself has been divided into 12 short sections or chapters. The final two chapters, 11 and 12, may be from a different hand. There are also two small gaps in chapters 7 and at the end of chapter 10 that perished after its original transcription in antiquity. What has survived, however, is remarkable.
An “apology”, in this context, is not saying “sorry” for a slight or an offense. Instead is a reasoned defense of one’s belief and/or behavior. Within the hellenistic culture of the day, an apology (apologia or “defense”) was, strictly speaking, the speech offered by one accused in a judicial proceeding. In time, however, it morphed into a defense of a philosophical or theological position given in a speech or in literature, sometimes, but not always, given at a trial or inquiry. We think of the speech given by Socrates at his trial in Athens or, indeed, Paul’s defense given at his hearing before Festus and Agrippa (Acts 26:2). During the second and third centuries, the Apology became an important genre of Christian literature as the early Church sought to stake its own identity over against the claims of Judaism on one side, and Graeco-Roman culture on the other side.
It is important to note in this context that Christians were viewed with enormous suspicion during this period. Regarded as messianic renegades by the Jewish diaspora, Christians were also considered ignorant and superstitious when measured against the panoramic backdrop of Greek philosophy and Roman literature. Moreover, Christians avoided the normal social life of the day. They did not frequent the baths or the gladiatorial games. Most Christians came from the lower ranks of society, even to the inclusion of slaves as equals. They failed to participate in civic rituals. They considered marriage as a permanent state, rather than transitory. They refused to offer even token sacrifices to the genius of the Empire, or to the local gods who protected and ensured the welfare of the cities in which they lived. Given to private meetings of “brothers and sisters” and secret ceremonies apparently involving private communal bathing (baptism) and participating in meals rumored to consist of human flesh and blood (the Eucharist) they were suspected of incest, immorality, magic, human sacrifice and cannibalism. If all this were not enough, they worshipped a Jew who had been executed under Roman law, and spoke of another kingdom, exciting charges of disloyalty, revolutionary activity and treason.
It is against this background of popular perceptions, that the anonymous author pens his defense of the faith to Diognetus.
The text is very short. It can be read in the space of ten or fifteen minutes. The author writes to explain the manner in which Christians worship God (Diog. 1). As would be expected, in chapters 2-4, the author carefully explains why Christianity is superior to the worship of idols (in the Graeco-Roman context) as well as superior to the sacrifices, laws, and customs of the Jews, from whom he makes a pronounced differentiation in terms of the Christian community. In chapters 5-6 the author provides a description of the Christian community as a contrast. This is followed in chapters 7-8 by a theological and philosophical defense of Christianity as being of not only divine origin, but also of being God’s instrument of salvation in terms of human history. The 10th chapter is an appeal to Diognetus himself to embrace this faith. The remaining two chapters (Diog. 11-12) are likely an addendum by another hand (possibly later). It may, in fact be a short homily, which is of interest simply owing to its antiquity and the thematic presentation of Christ the logos coming into the world (a favorite theme of early apologists) and the Church as the continuation of that advent.
Now, for contemporary students of apologetics, one might note that this is not an ancient version of Evidence That Demands A Verdict which focuses on “the trustworthiness of the Bible and its teachings”. If anything, second and third century apologists might have a bit more in common with modern day equivalents such as C.S. Lewis or G.K. Chesterton, all the while, however, addressing the concerns of their own time. Today, of course, we have apologetics and apologists spread over a wide field of topics – Biblical Apologetics, Scientific Apologetics, Philosophical Apologetics, Historical and Legal Evidentialism, Moral Apologetics, and even Creationist Apologetics. Yet the heart of the apologetic argument in this second century text is not really about any of these topics. It is about who Christians are and how their faith is evidenced by the lives they lead. To quote Mr. Springsteen, “No, you can’t tell people anything, you’ve got to show ’em.”
“Christians differ not from other men in country, or language, or customs. They do not live in any peculiar cities, or employ any particular dialect, or cultivate characteristic habits of life. The truths which they hold result not from the busy ingenuities of human thought; the counsels of man in them possess no champion. They dwell in cities, Greek and barbarian, each where he finds himself placed, and while they submit to the fashion of their country in dress and food and the general conduct of life, they yet maintain a system of interior polity, which beyond all controversy is full of admiration and wonder. The countries they inhabit are their own, but they dwell like aliens; they take their part in all privileges, as being citizens; and in all sufferings they partake as if they were strangers. In every foreign country they recognize a home; and in their home they see the place of their pilgrimage. They marry like other men, and exclude not their children from their affections: their table is open to all around them; they live in the world, but not according to its fashions; they walk on earth, but their conversation is in heaven. They obey the established laws, but in their lives transcend all law; they love all men, and are persecuted by all; they are unknown, and yet are condemned. Death to them is life; of their poverty they make many rich, and in the extremity of want they still possess all things. They are treated with dishonor, and by dishonor are made glorious; their integrity is insured by the insults which they suffer; when cursed they bless, and reproaches they pay with respect. When doing good they are punished as evil-doers; and when they are punished they rejoice as men that are raised unto life. By Jews they are treated as aliens and foes, by Greeks they are persecuted; and none of their enemies can state a ground for their enmity.”
“In truth, Christians are to the world what the soul is to the body.” (Diog. 5-6)
Today, we are surrounded by words. Books line our shelves. The inbox on our email servers are filled with correspondence, newsletters and the like. If we tire of the talking heads spewing words on the television screen, we can self-select even more words in blogs and videos online. Moreover, we can also easily add to this proliferation of words. Owing to advances in technology, we have the ability at our fingertips to constantly “tell” people what we believe concerning a myriad of topics on a wide variety of social media platforms and in varied forums.
Yet, maybe we have it wrong.
For the apologists of the early Church, the central argument for the faith was to be found not in words, but in the actual lives lived by Christians. Interestingly enough, this is a pattern of what one might call “practical apologetics” that has been repeated through the centuries. When, in the 13th century, the early Franciscans were viewed with suspicion and alarm by many owing to their embrace of a radical Christianity, their answer was remarkably simple – “Come and see the life we live”. When John Wesley and the early Methodists were excoriated by church leaders for their “Holy Clubs” and societies, the response was the same, “Come and see…” When Anglo-Catholic clergy were exiled by their bishops to slum parishes in the 19th century and attacked for restoring the centrality of the Eucharist to Anglican worship, they invited their critics to leave their comfortable establishment parishes and experience for themselves the “beauty of worship” amongst the poor of the city. Even in our own time when a middle-aged pastor in southern California outraged many of his fellow evangelical and charismatic leaders by allowing into his church hippies, kids off the beach, rock musicians and the like, his response to his critics was simple, “Come and see…”
Our greatest apologia is the life that we live as the Church.
Maybe it’s time to return to that earlier form of “practical apologetics”.
Maybe it’s time to not merely “tell” people what we believe.
Maybe it is time to “show” them what we believe; that is, if we can…
This revelation is about Jesus from the Father. At the same time, it is also the revelation by Jesus for us.
We know the writer had the name John – which John? There are many options and word count is short and everyone can Google. My take is that it is the Apostle John. St. Irenaeus, who was a disciple of Polycarp, who was a disciple of John, says that John wrote in the 1st century during the time of the emperor Domitian – in the 90s while John was exiled to the prison island of Patmos. I go along with the teaching that John left Patmos at the death of Domitian and returned to Ephesus and to pastor and plant churches until the reign of Emperor Trajan where he probably died.
I lean toward the position the Revelation was written before John’s Gospel. The three Synoptic Gospels were already written 25 years earlier and after his release from prison, John was pressed to write his own account of Jesus while he walked the earth. Was Revelation actually John’s first Gospel? (I will discuss this more in Introduction Pt. 2.)
We also need to study the role of the Caesars. At this time there was a tremendous amount of Caesar / Emperor worship and much of Revelation is to proclaim to the churches that no matter what their eyes see, no matter what they are told, no matter what they may be experiencing, Jesus, the slain lamb is in charge. We will discuss this later, but often it is missed that the book tells us the terrible things happening on earth and then flashes back to a heavenly scene to assure the churches what is actually happening. This was the cause of the Roman persecution against the church – Emperor worship and the refusal by Christians to participate. The Book of Revelation is loaded with the words the angels are singing, things like ‘you are above all Lord’ and that is precisely the language the Caesars wanted for themselves. Because the Christians would not worship the Caesars, they were charged with various serious crimes such as being atheists – refusing to worship the ‘true’ god. John, preaching this message of Jesus is Lord and not Caesar is probably what got him exiled to the prison on Patmos.
We will see that Roman persecution is the concern of the visions, and we will see that chapters 4 & 5 are the ones on which the whole book turns. God reveals himself to us on the cross as the Lamb slain. This book is solely about Jesus Christ and his Church – it is not about Israel, it is not about anti Christ, it is not about a 1,000 year earthly millennial kingdom – it is about Jesus Christ.
Below are some lists and charts of what you must be familiar with if you wish to really understand this book. I know it looks like a lot, but do the work – read, study and compare the passages listed.
Numbers in Revelation: (a partial sample)
1 = Unity, primacy, sovereignty, divine completeness: Christians saw this number as symbolic of God the Father
3= The number three always signifies some important event in Salvation History: Jesus’ ministry lasted three years – He arose from the dead on the third day – the earth was separated from the waters on the 3rd day. It is one of the four “perfect” numbers. Christians see this number as symbolic of the Trinity
4= This number signifies God’s creative works in association with the earth –the four seasons, the four winds, etc.
6. = Symbolic of man who was created on the 6th day; a symbol of man in rebellion against God (especially in multiples of six – “666”).
7 = This is the second “perfect” number signifying perfection and fullness, particularly spiritual perfection. It is the number of the Holy Spirit and the number of covenant.
8 = The number symbolizing salvation, rebirth, resurrection and regeneration – eight people were saved in the Ark, an Israelite child was reborn into the covenant on the 8th day of life, and Jesus was resurrected from the dead on the 8th day.
10. = This is the third perfect number which signifies perfection of divine order – the Ten Commandments.
12. = The fourth perfect number signifying divine government – the Covenant people/ the Church. It is the number of Israel (descendants of the 12 physical sons of Jacob) as well as the number of the New Covenant Church (spiritual descendants of Jesus’ Twelve Apostles).
40. = The number signifying trial and/ or consecration – the series of 40 days in the Flood narrative, Moses’ 40 days on Mt. Sinai, and Jesus 40 days of testing in the wilderness.
50. = The number symbolizing divine deliverance/ mercy -the celebration of the Jubilee Year every 50th year.
And what about numbers such as 144,000 & 1,000 or 3 ½ and 666?
Sevens in Revelation:
|Spirits||1:4; 3:1; 4:5; 5:6|
|Golden lamp-stands||1:12, 20; 2:1; 4:5|
|Stars||1:16, 20; 2:1; 3:1|
|Lamps of fire||4:5|
|Seals||5:1; 5:5; 6:1|
|Angels||8:2, 6; 15:1, 6, 7; 15:8; 16:1; 17:1; 21:9|
|Heads||12:3; 13:1; 17:3, 7, 9|
|Plagues||15:1, 6, 8; 21:9|
|Golden bowls||15:7; 16:1; 17:1; 21:9|
|Last seven visions||Chapters 20-21|
Visions in Revelation – Ezekiel:
|Parallels between the visions in the Book of Revelation and the visions of the Book of the Prophet Ezekiel||Ezekiel||Revelation|
|1. The throne vision||Chapter 1||Chapter 4|
|2. The book opened and eaten||Chapters 2:9-3:3||Chapter 5:7-10; 10:8-9|
|3. The four plagues||Chapter 5||Chapter 6:1-8|
|4. Those slain under the altar||Chapter.6||Chapter 6:9-11|
|5. The wrath of God||Chapter 7||Chapter 6:12-17|
|6. The seal on the Saint’s foreheads||Chapter 9||Chapter 7|
|7. The coals from the altar||Chapter.10||Chapter 8|
|8. The 1/3 destruction||Chapter 5:1-4 &12||Chapter 8:6-12|
|9. No more delay||Chapter 12||Chapter 10:1-7|
|10. The eating of the book||Chapter 2||Chapter 10:8-11|
|11. Prophecy against the Nations||Chapters 25-32||Chapter 10:11|
|12. The measuring of the Temple||Chapters 40-43||Chapter 11:1-2|
|13. Comparing Jerusalem to Sodom||Chapter 16||Chapter 11:8|
|14. The cup of wrath||Chapter 23||Chapter 14|
|15. The vine of the land||Chapter 15||Chapter 14:18-20|
|16. The great harlot||Chapters 16, 23||Chapters 17-18|
|17. The lament sung over the city||Chapter 27||Chapter 18|
|18. The scavenger’s feast||Chapter 39||Chapter 19|
|19. The resurrection||Chapter 37||Chapter 20:4-6|
|20. The Battle of Gog and Magog||Chapter 38-39||Chapter 20:7-9|
|21. The New Jerusalem||Chapters 40-48||Chapter 21|
|22. The River of Life||Chapter 47||Chapter 22|
Visions in Revelation – Daniel
|Parallels between the visions in the Book of Revelation and the visions of the Prophet Daniel||Daniel||Revelation|
|1. Three and a half time period (a time, 2 times and ½ a time)||Chapter 12:7||Chapter 11:9, 11|
|2. The 10 horns||Chapter 7:8||Chapters 12:3; 13:1; 17:3, 8|
|3. The Leopard, the Bear, and the Lion||Chapter 7:4-6||Chapter 13:2|
|4. The Beast mouthing boasting and blasphemies||Chapter 7:8,11||Chapter 13:5|
|5. The war against the Saints||Chapter 7:21||Chapter 13:7|
|6. The worship of the Beast’s statue||Chapter 3:5-7, 15||Chapter 13:15|
|7. The Son of Man coming on the Glory-Cloud||Chapter 7:13||Chapter 1:7 & 14:14|
Introduction Pt. 2 – Next Week