Book Three of the Psalms (Psalms 73-89) Oct. 22, 2017
Pastor Louis Prontnicki Maple Glen Bible Fellowship Church
Introduction: As Christians we would like to stay where it is warm and comfortable for us. That is, we want to remain in Genesis 1-2 (with no sin or curse), in Job 1:1-5 (with godliness, prosperity, and God’s blessing), and in Ps. 1:1 and Ps. 73:1 (more of God’s blessings!). But the reality is that sin has devastated us and our world (Gen. 3). We live in a world that has been disoriented and twisted by sin, as if a tornado swept through our neighborhood and left everything in splinters. Therefore we need to be reoriented and straightened out before we can go on with life… and only God’s Word and grace can do that for us.
Book Three of the Psalms acknowledges the devastation of sin, as God’s people are taken away into exile; the temple of the Lord is in smoldering ruins; and the descendants of David are no longer on the throne in Zion! God’s people are completely disoriented, and Book III takes us through that stage in our lives that we have nothing left, and prepares us for God’s restoration and maturation in Book IV.
To put it in other words, many professing believers and a number of famous preachers think that if we are faithful and trusting, we can somehow avoid the devastation of Book III, and simply enjoy God’s blessings. But the challenge of Israel’s devastation – and of the hardships and setbacks of our lives – shows us that we need to go deeper with God. We need to press on, in faith, when everything around us is crumbling, so that God, in His grace, can bring us to a seasoned and mature trust in Him. This level of living with God can only be reached by going through troubles, persecution, and suffering. This is how we need to look at Psalms 73-89.
This book of the psalms deals with the national or corporate devastation of God’s people, rather than the personal or individual struggles which we saw more of in Books I and II.
We read of God’s people facing defeat at the hands of their enemies, who are invading and devastating Israel. Some of these psalms were likely written when foreign nations were invading both the Northern Kingdom and the Southern Kingdom, or even in exile. We see echoes of the book of Lamentations here.
Pss. 73-83 are attributed to Asaph, while Pss. 84-89 to the Sons of Korah (except Ps. 86, by David) – both are Levitical authors. If the temple was being sacked, or even in ruins, the Levites who cared for the worship of the Lord in the temple would be the most distressed among God’s people; it had been the focus of their work, their ministry, and their lives! See 74:4-7 and 79:1. This would account for much of the depressed tone of some of these psalms. How they longed to dwell in God’s place once more! (Ps. 84)
It may be that the Levites were responsible for the eventual shaping of the arrangement of the Psalter as a whole.
Psalms 73 -74 introduce the focus of Book III on the distress and devastation of God’s people (individual and corporate).
Ps. 73: Is God good? The need for an eternal perspective (73:17ff.). The truth of this psalm are at the heart of the message of the psalms as a whole.
Geoffrey Grogan (p. 211f.): Ps. 73 is of great importance in the structure of the Psalter. It sums up the message of the psalms and of the whole OT. It contains the OT theology in a nutshell.
Psalms 75-76 affirm the kingship of God over all earthly kings, despite the devastation they can bring.
Ps. 75: Various testimonies declaring the God who rules over all.
We could take Pss. 74 and 75 together as presenting two perspectives on the same situation. In 74 the people are in the midst of unresolved calamity and destruction; in 75 we look back on how God has dealt with the problem. The lesson is that we should not dwell on our problems. But on the God who is so good and great and sovereign over all; a God who is in charge.
Ps. 76: Knowing God (His word is power, 1-6) and Fearing God (His word is law, 7-12)
Psalms 77-83 report the devastation and the deliverance of both the southern (Judah) and the northern (Joseph) kingdoms of Israel, with a centralized focus on the “Son” of Ps. 80.
Ps. 77: vv. 1-9 describe those times when praying and remembering about God do not seem to help at all. But vv. 10-20 describe memories of God that bring confident assurance, as a result of having simple childlike faith in God.
Notice the turning points in many of these psalms:
77:10-11 “Then I thought… I will remember the Lord’s deeds”
78:65: “The Lord awoke… He beat back His enemies”
Ps. 78: Surveying the acts of God, in two parts.
Part One (9-39): How did the well-equipped Ephraimites come to be defeated? The deadly sin of forgetting God’s wonders; note that in vv. 9-11.
Part Two (40-72) speaks of the deadly sin of not remembering God’s power.
Asaph gives us the answer to why things are the way they are. Either you look at history from a human perspective or as God sees it. The exile to Babylon was not an accident. It was part of God’s covenant plan. But God never gives up. He perseveres with us. He is faithful. But we often forget Him and His Word, to our own hurt.
Ps. 79: Plight and promise. “The nations have invaded your inheritance” (v. 1) “How long, O Lord?” (v. 5)
Many of the psalms contain pleas to God for restoration: 79:8; 80:3, 7, 19; Ps. 85
Ps. 80: the endangered flock (1-7); past and present in tension (8-13); and the future: plea and pledge (14-19). The repeated theme is “Restore us, o Lord!” (vv. 3, 7, 14, 18, and 19)
Together Pss. 79 and 80 paint a picture of the whole people of God: Judah in the south (79) and Israel in the north (80) are both in deep trouble. Each one cries out “How long?” (79:5; 80:4). But in both cases God is still the Shepherd (80:1) of His people; we still belong to Him – We are “your people”; we are “your beloved.”
Ps. 81: the refusal of God’s people to listen to Him. The threat of failing to listen to the Lord. How different things could have been! “If my people would but listen to me…. How quickly I would subdue their enemies.” (81:11, 13)
These psalms help to uncover our sins and show us how we refuse to listen to God; how we forget Him, His deeds, His promises, and His commands. They also take us deeper to Himself.
Psalms 82 and 83 call on God to judge the whole earth
Ps. 82: Israel appeals to God in the courtroom of heaven, to put the “gods” on trial. Praying for justice, especially for the weak and defenseless. (Israel against her oppressors) “Rise up, O God, judge the earth, for the nations are Your inheritance.” (82:8). There is the internal threat of a corrupt legal system: “Defend the cause of the weak and orphans.” (82:3-4)
On Friday I read this psalm and others like it in front of the Philadelphia Women’s Center, near 8th and Arch Streets, a place that destroys over 5,000 precious and defenseless unborn babies every year. And I was reading the parts of these psalms not only about the Lord rescuing the oppressed and the defenseless, but also about God’s justice against the oppressors, I was only a foot or two away from the yellow-vested “escort” who stood at the doors of the center, making sure that pregnant women wouldn’t hear my offers of help, and thus deprive the abortion center of their blood money. I thought about how this cry for God to reign down His perfect justice upon a murderous place like this sounded in that escort’s ears. For it is one thing to study or pray these passages in one’s bedroom; it is another to pray them out loud at a place that deserves such judgment. It made me think how our persecuted brothers and sisters might pray these psalms, such as in Northern Nigeria, where Boko Haram and the Fulani are attacking Christians day after day, and the police and the state do nothing. We have much to learn from the suffering church in how to look at and to pray through the Psalms, do we not?
Ps. 83: A prayer arising out of the world’s continual aggression against God and His people.
Ultimately Jesus Christ will come again as the True Judge of the world (John 10:31-39)
Sing Hymn # 61 “O God, No Longer Hold Thy Peace” Based on Psalm 83. (Same tune as How Vast the Benefits Divine, # 470)
Together with Ps. 87, we can see the universal aspect of the psalms: God has a saving purpose for the whole earth, but there will also be a worldwide judgment upon sin.
Psalms 84-87 offer a striking change of tone with a largely positive perspective.
Ps. 84: The psalmist longs for God’s House, to be worshipping in God’s dwelling place on earth. “How lovely is your dwelling place, O Lord Almighty” (v. 1) “Better is one day in your courts” (v. 10) He desires to be with those at the temple (the birds, the priests, and the pilgrims), although this may be him imagining the temple not being destroyed. Yet he ends in v. 12 by acknowledging that the truly blessed person is not determined by location or worship site, but rather by trusting in the Lord! (John 20:29 “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe.”)
Application: Do you and I long to be with other believers, in corporate worship of our God? Do we long for being with God in heaven?
Ps. 85: Praying for revival from the Lord. Remembering the past when God turned from His anger against His sinful people ad restored the fortunes of Jacob (vv. 1-3), and asking God to do that again, now in the present, for His people in exile. (vv. 4-7). A plea for God to restore us, to revive us. Followed by a pause for meditation (8-9), and then prayers for a future vision of God’s blessing of love, faithfulness, and righteousness. (10-12) Hymn # 341 “O Breath of Life, Come Sweeping through Us.”
Ps. 86: This is the only Davidic psalm in Book III. David’s prayer. He is poor and needy, and asks God for deliverance and mercy. He appeals to God’s character (vv. 5, 8, 10, 13, and 15), He declares the Lord’s sovereignty over the gods and the nations (8-9). David asks God for wisdom (11-13), mercy, and protection from his enemies (14-17). Though a personal psalm, it fits in well with the theme of Israel being devastated by the nations.
Ps. 87: Zion’s Children. See Hymn # 345 “Glorious Things of Thee Are Spoken.” Psalm 87 is about God’s grace that brings in undeserving outsiders – even people from oppressive enemy nations – and blesses them with the privileges of citizenship in God’s blessed kingdom! Three times we hear the refrain, “This one was born in Zion.” (vv. 4, 5, 6)
Even foreign gentiles will be able to say they were native born citizens of Zion! (Also see Isa. 54 and 60). This is a picture of the NT gospel blessings, where all the nations will come and worship the Lord and trust in Him!
Grogan, p. 215ff. “It might seem strange (with Jerusalem in ruins and God’s holy temple razed to the ground) that there should be two psalms in Book III (76 and 87) celebrating the fact that Zion is the dwelling place of God. Perhaps they were written before the exile, but their inclusion here in Book III indicates a faith in God’s future purposes for Zion. In fact, Ps. 87 goes beyond that faith, to believe that God will cause oppressive enemy Gentiles to embrace the gospel message and grace, and be incorporated into God’s people!
To be finished on Oct. 29, Lord willing
Psalms 88-89 conclude Book III with both individual and national distress over the devastation, offering little hope of deliverance. What a low after the high of Ps, 87!
So the book concludes with both an individual psalm of defeat (88) and national psalm of defeat (89), with the covenant of the Lord with David seemingly in jeopardy (89:38-39, 44).
Ps. 88: Here is trouble without explanation. Darkness without light and trust without hope. The psalm ends without relief coming, but with his prayer continuing.
We might take away a few sobering truths from this saddest of psalms:
- Unrelieved suffering may be a believer’s lot in life.
- We all await our complete redemption as God’s children (Rom. 8:22ff.)
- The psalmist doesn’t give up; he keeps praying (1-2, 9, and 13) to the God who saves (v. 1).
- The psalmist’s plea was not in vain. This desperate plea was included in the sacred record of Scripture for others to benefit from.
- This is a picture of Christ’s suffering and agony on our behalf.
See Isaiah 50:10 “Who among you fears the Lord and obeys the Word of his servant? Let him who walks in darkness and has no light, let him trust in the name of the Lord, and lean (rely) upon His God.”
Ps. 89: This psalm reflects the individual and national aspects of God’s judgement, as Israel is in exile for their sins. 2 Samuel 7 is the needed backdrop to this psalms, the covenant with David.
Here we read of “a painful tension between the forever aspect of God’s covenant (vv. 1-37) and the devastating events of their enemies triumphing and the covenant seemingly trashed (vv. 38-51). Yet the Psalmist’ spirit is humble as he appeals to God to resolve this painful tension between God’s faithful covenant and the awful events around him. This unresolved tension drives us to the New Testament, where fulfillment of the covenant outstrips the expectation!”
“The unanswerable questions of Ps. 89 were to have undreamed of and unquestionable answers in Jesus!” Indeed, “All the promises of God are “Yes” and “Amen” in Christ.” (2 Cor. 1:20)
Note how near the end of Ps. 89, we begin to see the blending of the Lord’s anointed being both King and a Suffering Servant. For the Messiah will be the recipient of God’s promises and of man’s insults (49-51).
Grogan, p. 217 “Book III ends with Ps. 89, in which the faithfulness of God to His covenant with David is extoled at considerable length (vv. 1-37), only to be followed by a section in which the psalmist shows great perplexity at what has happened (caused by the exile) v. 49: “Lord, where is your steadfast love which you swore to David?”
It seems that the questions and crisis raised and left unanswered in Book III and in Ps. 89 in particular set the scene for the answers in Books IV and V. (Almost like God’s revelation of Himself to Job, in the closing five chapters of that book.) Furthermore, the ultimate answer raised by the struggles and questions of Ps. 89 will be answered only in the person and work of God’s Son, Our Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.
Alec Motyer: “Do you have a recipe for the day when everything falls apart? Yes, if we go to Ps. 89. The recipe is to sing and pray – not songs just of emotion, but songs of affirmation, the great hymns which declare fundamental truths about God. That’s what Ethan the Ezrahite sang here in ps. 89.
- 52 is an editorial conclusion to Book III “Blessed be the Lord forever. Amen and Amen.” Or “Praise be to the Lord forever.”