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Psalms is Telling a Story

Here is some food for thought as we begin to study the book of Psalms. Psalms is a collection of prayers that are telling a story. One of the more amazing things I've learned about Psalms is called the "canonical" view of the psalter. It goes like this:

There are five books in Psalms:
  • Book 1 (Psalm 1-41)
  • Book 2 (Psalm 42-72)
  • Book 3 (Psalm 73-89)
  • Book 4 (Psalm 90-106)
  • Book 5 (Psalm 107-150)
These books were arranged deliberately. Each book is telling part of a larger story. I don't have space to lay this out in detail but here's a broad picture.

Books 1-3 show us the rise and fall of the messianic kingdom of God in Israel. Book 1 is introduced by Psalm 1. It is the prologue to the story, calling us to focus our mental powers on the Word of God. Then, in Psalm 2, we see the announcement and anointing of God's King. From there, the King faces problem after problem, attack after attack.

The King's kingdom hits a dramatic low point at the end of Book 3 in Psalm 89. The psalmist recounts God's promises to David that he would never lack a son to sit on the throne. But now Israel is facing exile: "But now you have cast off and rejected; you are full of wrath against your anointed. You have renounced the covenant with your servant; you have defiled his crown in the dust" (vv. 38-39). It appears the crown is falling off the King's head.

In Book 4, beginning in Psalm 90, God's people are in exile. The kingdom is in shambles. In a surprising turn, Psalm 90 is written by Moses, the key figure of exile and wandering in the Old Testament. He says, "O Lord, you have been our dwelling place in all generations" (v. 1). He reminds God's people that no matter where they are—at home, in exile, in Egypt, or in Babylon—their true home is found in God Himself. They will never be homeless even if they don't have a roof over their heads.

Book 5 is a book of praise. Very early in the book we have the Psalms of Ascent (120-134). These were songs that pilgrims sang as they made their way back to the holy city of Jerusalem. Exile is over; God's people return to the land to offer Him sacrifices of praise.

Put this together and the structure of Psalms shows us a picture: God anoints His King. His King and kingdom suffer attack. His people go into exile. Then they return home with triumphant songs of praise. This is a canonical view of the psalter. And it is good news.

Martin Luther called Psalms a "little Bible." Indeed, it is, because it summarizes the message of God's saving work. Jesus Christ must wear the crown of thorns before He wears the crown of gold. He must go homeless so that we can find a true home in Him (Luke 9:58). He must be cast off and exiled so that we can be brought near to God. He must ascend Mount Calvary so that we can ascend Mount Zion with triumphant songs of praise.

God's kingdom may appear to be in shambles from time to time. But return always follows exile. Joy always follows sadness. And resurrection always follows death. Here we have no lasting city, but we will cross the Jordan with triumphant songs in our ascent to the Promised Land.

As you look at the hills around Stephens Valley this coming Lord's Day, remember the words of Psalm 121: "I lift my eyes to the hills. Where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth."

Let everything that has breath praise the Lord.
Posted by Heath Cross