It is no accident that the Psalms fall in the center of the Bible. This collection of prayer and praise is a storehouse of God's rich revelation of Himself to His people. We would need to look hard to find some scriptural theme or teaching which is not touched upon in the Psalms.
But here, the lessons are not learned by rote. Rather, they are deeply etched into human hearts in times of their greatest extremity. In many of the Psalms, despair drags the writer in a downward spiral toward destruction, until at last, looking up, he catches sight of the Lord. Then hope begins to rise within him as he is swept up in the realization that the Lord, who has met his need in past sorrows, is sufficient for this present crisis and for those yet to come.
Each of the Psalms is multi-faceted, like a finely cut gem. One facet is the perspective of the author, the experience which inspired his song or prayer. For example, David, having weathered oppression from enemies within and without, wrote "the Lord is my Shepherd" (Psa 23). But, viewed from another angle, these words speak profoundly of the national experience of Israel, with both historic and prophetic implications. David's Shepherd is also the Shepherd of Israel. There is also the personal perspective of the reader. As such, the facets of this Psalm are beyond number, reflecting the unique experiences of countless believers who have found rest in knowing the Lord as "my" Shepherd. Finally, there is the perspective of the Shepherd Himself. The Messiah is so central to Scripture that it seems totally inadequate to isolate a "Messianic facet." Rather, it is He who illuminates all that surrounds Him.
A gem, regardless of the size or number of its facets, has no beauty of its own. It has no sparkle or glow apart from the light. John identified the true Light which gives meaning and joy to God's people:
It is no wonder then, that the disciples' hearts burned within them, as Jesus opened their understanding to the things "written in the law of Moses, and in the prophets, and in the Psalms" concerning Himself. (Luke 24:27,32,44-48)
By including the Psalms with the Law and the Prophets, Jesus gives them a place of prominence which is far above mere poetry. All Scripture speaks of Him. "The testimony of Jesus is the Spirit of prophecy" (Rev 19:10). The Law exposed our condition, as sinners in need of both Lamb and Shepherd. The Prophets looked foward to His appearings to fulfill those roles. The Psalms echo these messages.
Many of the Psalms are quoted in the New Testament with specific reference to the Lord Jesus. These are often referred to as the Messianic Psalms. (They are Psalms 2, 8, 16, 22, 23, 24, 40, 41, 45, 68, 69, 72, 89, 102, 110, 118.) But these are not the only Psalms with a Messianic ring. Some say, and this writer suspects they are right, that Messiah can be discerned in all of the 150 Psalms. Nevertheless, our study will focus on those mentioned above and a few others. Among these, Psalm 116 is included in the main list, while very brief comments are provided on each of several Psalms in a section called 'Others' (including Psalms 1, 9, 17, 18, 20*, 21*, 30, 31, 42, 55, 61, 75, 80, 85, 91).
(* Extended notes have been added for Psalms 20 and 21, in the 'Others' list.)
Perhaps "study" is a poor choice of words, implying a pursuit of mere academic knowledge. Yes, the intellect is essential, for we must compare Scripture with Scripture to understand its meaning. But whenever we approach Scripture, and especially the Psalms, we must be careful to "apply our hearts" to the wisdom which the Holy Spirit teaches. Here, the discerning heart may be melted by the very voice of God's Anointed One as He pours Himself out in song and prayer.
Oh Lord, give us ears to hear, and hearts that burn for Thee. Amen.
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