Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Piety in the Psalter

“The Psalter begins with a Beatitude and ends with an Alleluia.”

Arthur Jenk's short work has been the only printed study on the beatitudes of the Psalter that I have been able to find, so far. He wrote from a distinctly Anglican perspective which limits some of the usefulness of his applications. Nevertheless, I found it to be interesting as I prepared to teach through this material in our adult Sunday School class.

Two other commentaries that provided a bit of help were James L. Mays' Psalms in the Interpretation series and Gerald Wilson's Psalms: Volume 1 in the NIV Application Commentary series. It was reading May's comments on the first two Psalms that caused me to take note of the various beatitudes scattered throughout the Psalter. In fact, I learned from Mays that Psalm 1 is integrally linked with Psalm 2 by the use of beatitudes (1:1 & 2:12). Together these two psalms form an introduction to the Psalter and the beatitudes used in them express the fruit of piety: Blessed is the man...[whose] delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night* (1:1, 2) & Blessed are all who take refuge in him (2:12).

What Does "Blessed" Mean?

Blessed is the traditional translation of the saying’s formulaic word; contemporary translations prefer ‘happy’ in order to distinguish these sayings from pronouncements of blessing that invoke the beneficent work of God on persons and groups. In blessings, the formulaic Hebrew term is baruk; in beatitudes, ’ashre. The primary difference is that the blessing invokes God’s beneficent support of life, while the beatitude points to and commands the conduct and character that enjoy it.
(James L. Mays, Psalms, Interpretation, p. 41)

James Murphy in his classic commentary on the Psalms translates ashre/makarios as "happy". He defines it this way: “Happiness is here not an occasional outward condition, but an inward perpetuity of bliss, involving peace with my God, my neighbor, and myself.”

Peter Craigie clarifies that “their happy estate is not something given automatically by God, but is a direct result of their activity.” (Psalms 1-50, volume 1, WBC. p. 60)

Psalms 1, 32, 41, 92, and 128 all begin with this epithet (similar to the Sermon on the Mount).

'ashre occurs 26 times in the Psalter. Gerald Wilson has listed all of the occurences of ’ashre both outside and within the Psalms.

  • Outside the Psalms: Deut. 33:29; 1 Kings 10:8; 2 Chron. 9:7; Job 5:17; Prov. 3:13; 8:32, 34; 14:21; 16:20; 20:7; 28:14; 29:18; Eccl. 10:17; Isa. 30:18; 32:20; 56:2; Dan. 12:12.
  • Within the Psalms: Pss. 1:1; 2:12; 32:1, 2; 33:12; 34:8; 40:4; 41:1; 65:4; 84:4, 5, 16; 89:15; 94:12; 106:3; 112:1; 119:1, 2; 127:5; 128:1, 2; 137:8, 9; 144:15; 146:5.
So, according to the Psalter, what makes for a happy man? With the space remaining I will outline for you some of the categories used to describe the truly happy man.

1. The Happiness of Delighting in the Law of the LORD

Psalm 1:1-2 Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night.
  • What he does not do (v. 1)
  • What he does do (v. 2)
Psalm 94:12 Blessed is the man whom you discipline, O Lord, and whom you teach out of your law,
  • "But here it is the pupil speaking, not the teacher, and the words are a triumph of faith: a positive reaction to present trouble (1-7), and a personal reception of a general truth which would be easier to apply to 'the nations' than to oneself." (Kidner, vol 2, p. 342)
Psalm 112:1 Praise the Lord! Blessed is the man who fears the Lord, who greatly delights in his commandments!
  • "...this person is a man of character, not merely of property...his godliness shows itself as an enthusiasm rather than a burden."
  • "To this man God's word is as fascinating as are His works to the naturalist..."
  • "What grips him is God's will and call." (Kidner, vol 2, p. 399)
Psalm 119:1-2 Blessed are those whose way is blameless, who walk in the law of the Lord! Blessed are those who keep his testimonies, who seek him with their whole heart,

Psalm 128:1-2 Blessed is everyone who fears the Lord, who walks in his ways! You shall eat the fruit of the labor of your hands; you shall be blessed, and it shall be well with you.

  • The ingredients of happiness:
    • Reverence - a right relationship with God
    • Obedience - the habits learned from Him.
2. The Happiness of Trusting in God
Psalm 2:12 Blessed are all who take refuge in him.
  • Four interchangeable terms: trust, confidence, hope, and refuge
  • See also: confide, seek shelter
  • “What fear and pride interpret as bondage (3) is in fact security and bliss. And there is no refuge from him; only in him." (Kidner, vol 1, p. 53)
Psalm 34:8 Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good! Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him!
  • The Hebrew word for "man" here is different from the one used in Psalm 1. Here, the gloss indicates a young man full of strength. Psalm 1 used the more common term for man which speaks of his status.
  • Heb. 6:5 & 1 Peter 2:3 quote this text as the first venture into faith.
    • “Tasting should be more than casual sampling.” (Kidner, vol 1, p. 140)
  • The exhortation continues with “Oh, fear the Lord, you his saints, for those who fear him have no lack!” (v.9).
  • Then, v. 11, "Come, O children, listen to me; I will teach you the fear of the Lord.” See vv. 12-22.
  • Verse 22 ends with “none of those who take refuge in him will be condemned.” I hope that you see the Messianic reference in v. 20. What is the greatest display of God’s trustworthiness?
    • His Son trusted in Him and was not left desolate. See Psalm 16:8-11.
Psalm 40:4 Blessed is the man who makes the Lord his trust, who does not turn to the proud, to those who go astray after a lie!
Psalm 84:5 Blessed are those whose strength is in you, in whose heart are the highways to Zion.
  • Essential to trust, hope and confidence is recognizing the source of our strength. When exiled from the place of routine happiness, there is still strength and happiness to be found in God. Our happiness is not bound to certain places, as wonderful as some places are. The source of our happiness is found in God.
Psalm 84:12 O Lord of hosts, blessed is the one who trusts in you!
  • Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed (Jn 20:29)
Psalm 144:15 Happy is that people, that is in such a case: yea, happy is that people, whose God is the Lord. See the context…deliverance from strange children (v. 7)
Psalm 146:5 Blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the Lord his God,
  • We worked on memorizing this Psalm and found it to be a wonderful summary of many of the major themes we found in the Psalter.

3. The Happiness of Forgiveness

In Psalm 32 we find not only another Beatitude, but we find, as Calvin commented, “the gate of eternal salvation.”

Psalm 32:1-2 Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. Blessed is the man against whom the Lord counts no iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no deceit.
  • “[This psalm] was a favorite with St Augustine, who ‘often read this Psalm with weeping heart and eyes, and before his death had it written upon the wall which was over against his sick-bed, that he might be exercised and comforted by it in his sickness.’ His words ‘intelligentia prima est ut te noris peccatorem’—the beginning of knowledge is to know thyself to be a sinner—might be prefixed to it as a motto.” (Kirkpatrick, Psalms, pp. 161-162).
  • This is the second of the seven, so called, Penitential Prayers (6, 32, 38, 51, 102, 130, 143).
  • In the NT, we find that Paul quotes this text in order to verify his argument that righteousness comes not by works but by faith in God (Romans 4:6-8).
Here is the full definition of the righteousness of faith: transgressions forgiven, sins covered, iniquity not imputed. The full dimension of human evil.
  • Transgression – acts reflecting rebellion against God
  • Sin – (the most general term) an offense, or turning away from the true path
  • Iniquity – indicating distortion, criminality, or the absence of respect for the divine will
NOTE: These terms are used in the midst of synonymous parallelism and should not be dissected too much. The completeness of the Divine deliverance.
  • Forgiven – the lifting, or removing of a burden
  • Covered – concealed from sight, so that the foulness of sin no longer meets the eye of the judge and calls for punishment (Kirkpatrick)
  • Counts no – the canceling of a debt, which is no longer reckoned against the offender

Altogether we see the JOY OF PARDON.





4. The Happiness of Being Chosen by the LORD

Psalm 33:12 Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord, the people whom he has chosen as his heritage!
  1. The Key to national success: that nation whose God is the LORD
    1. not its own policies and plans (human aspirations)
    2. but lives according to the sovereign plan of the LORD
      1. This was not a role Israel chose
      2. This was a role inherited via their election by God (VOCATION)
Psalm 144:15 Blessed are the people to whom such blessings fall! Blessed are the people whose God is the Lord!
God is not only the God of nations, but also of individual.
Psalm 65:4 Blessed is the one you choose and bring near, to dwell in your courts! We shall be satisfied with the goodness of your house, the holiness of your temple!
Just as ancient Israel realized her vocation in the LORD, so you are made to realize your own vocation according to His policies and plans (His aspirations).

Psalm 4:3 But know that the Lord has set apart the godly for himself; the Lord hears when I call to him.

1 Cor. 1:26 For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth.

James 2:5 Listen, my beloved brothers, has not God chosen those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom, which he has promised to those who love him?

1 Peter 2:10 Once you were not a people, but now you are God's people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.

Ephes. 1:4 even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him.

Elect of God, what history are you writing? Is it according to your own policies and plans, or are you submitted to His sovereign plan?

5. The Happiness of Considering those Less Fortunate

Psalm 41:1-2 Blessed is the one who considers the poor! In the day of trouble the Lord delivers him; The Lord protects him and keeps him alive; he is called blessed in the land; you do not give him up to the will of his enemies.
  • "Blessed are the merciful." (Matt. 5:7)
  • Questions for consideration:
    • Who are the poor and needy?
    • How am I to consider them?
    • How must I deal with them?
  • Carefully work through Psalms 9 and 10 and note the following:
    • Note the two different groups by making a list of words and phrases used to describe each
      • Note how each group acts toward God
      • Note how each group acts toward the other
    • Note all of the references to God's posture toward the wicked
    • Note all of the references to God's posture toward the poor
  • Now, go back and reconsider the "questions for consideration"
6. The Happiness of Abiding in the Presence of the LORD

Psalm 84:4 Blessed are those who dwell in your house, ever singing your praise!

Psalm 89:15 Blessed are the people who know the festal shout, who walk, O Lord, in the light of your face,

Psalm 27:4 One thing have I asked of the Lord, that will I seek after: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to inquire in his temple.

Who may dwell in the presence of the LORD?
  • Psalm 15 speaks of the moral requirements of worshipers

Should there be a difference between the expression of your faith in private and in public?

Is there a place where the LORD uniquely dwells?

I'll leave those questions for you to consider. Also, consider this. True worship is the engagement of the whole person "all that I am to all that God is" (Grogan, Prayer, Praise, and Prophecy)

Psalm 42:1-2, Psalm 43:3-4, Psalm 122:1-4, Psalm 137:5-6


There are a few other categories which would require more space for an adequate presentation. However, I trust that this will suffice to give you, at least, a glimpse at the portrait painted by the psalmists of the truly happy man.


Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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