Book Review: The Essential Bible Companion to the Psalms

The Psalms is one of the most read books in the Old Testament. It’s not hard to understand why since, in many ways, it is the most human book of the Bible. The Psalms are weighty and textured, showing God’s people rejoicing in faith and lamenting in despair. They contain some of the most comforting and provocative words in all Scripture.

Yet, because of the span of time between us and the culture in which they were written, there are a few things that gets lost in translation. When was Psalm 110 written? Why is Selah off to the side in Psalm 3:2? And what is a miktam, anyway? While there are a lot of resources out there that can help readers dig into the meat of the Psalms and clear up confusion about words, expressions and ideas, many are not terribly accessible for a popular audience. With The Essential Bible Companion to the Psalms, authors Brian L. Webster and David R. Beach provide readers with a helpful introductory level companion to this beloved section of Scripture.

In many ways, The Essential Bible Companion to the Psalms serves as an amped-up version of the introductory notes you’d find in your typical study Bible. They give a very brief overview of the background and structure of each psalm, as well its type and unique characteristics. For the average reader, this is tons of information, but it’s all valuable. There have been many times as I’ve read the Psalms where having some of this material would have been very handy.

A nice feature of the book is the “Reflections” section of each synopsis. These sections offer a devotional element as the authors share their own thoughts on the content of each psalm.

While there are a number of elements that I appreciated, there were a few things that stuck out as negatives. Some are simply preference issues (I thought the majority of the accompanying images were a bit on the cheesy side, for example). But there was one big miss for me, which is that some of the background notes lacked an appropriate connection to Christ. [Read more...]

D.A. Carson: Getting Excited about Melchizedek #TGC11

In the final plenary session of The Gospel Coalition’s 2011 National Conference, D.A. Carson expounds on Psalm 110, the psalm most quoted in all the New Testament.

The audio is available for download here. Video footage can be viewed below:

 

My notes follow:


The LORD says to my Lord: “Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool.”

The LORD sends forth from Zion your mighty scepter.

Rule in the midst of your enemies!

Your people will offer themselves freely on the day of your power, in holy garments; from the womb of the morning, the dew of your youth will be yours.

The LORD has sworn and will not change his mind, “You are a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek.”

The Lord is at your right hand; he will shatter kings on the day of his wrath.

He will execute judgment among the nations, filling them with corpses, he will shatter chiefs over the wide earth.

He will drink from the brook by the way; therefore he will lift up his head. (Psalm 110 ESV)

Most of the controlling themes in the Bible don’t resonate well with the dominate culture in the west. Think of the categories:

Covenant. Priests. Sacrifice. Blood Offering. King. Passover. Day of Atonement. Year of Jubilee.

King. We speak of King Jesus. When Jesus announced His coming, He did not announce the coming of the republic of God. The king of the Bible is not a constitutional monarch. King has very different references.

We’re not thinking in these terms alone.

Yet Melchizedek turns out to be one of the most instructive figures in the whole Bible for helping us put together our Bible and seeing who Jesus is. God has put things together in the Bible in this way for our good.

Melchizedek only shows up in the OT in two places, once in Genesis and once here. And he shows up only once in the NT and that’s it. Yet he is absolutely revolutionary in our understanding of the Bible.

So we begin with Psalm 110. [Read more...]

James MacDonald: Not According to Our Sins #TGC11

James MacDonald is the founding pastor of Harvest Bible Chapel here in Chicago. His message comes from Psalm 25.

The audio is available for download here. Video footage can be viewed below:

My notes follow.


Not sure if this was a gift or Carson throwing down the gauntlet—“let’s see you preach Christ out of this text, yo!”

Before we can preach Christ, we first need to preach. Many are not actually heralding the Word that has been given to them. We need to preach Christ from all the Word.

4 things by way of background on Psalm 25:

  1. It’s a psalm. They’re the most quoted books of the OT in the NT. They’re quoted over 400 times in the NT. The psalms are the songbook of Jesus.
  2. It’s a poem. Ancient Hebrew poetry with two main artistic structure. It’s an acrostic and the truths come in couplets, synonymous parallelism.
  3. It’s a pattern. Prayer, creed, prayer. It’s David in pursuit of total trust in God. That’s why I’ve called this message “When You Don’t Know What To Do.” Some of it’s about learning, some is about leaning, but it’s all about building trust.
  4. It’s the plea of a broken-hearted man. Don’t ever let your study cause paralysis in remembering that this is a real life. A psalm like this can only come from someone who understood what it was like to be crushed. Many debate when this took place in David’s life, but most agree that this has to do with Absalom (see 2 Sam 3-15).

Psalm 25:1-2a: Trust God. The whole theme of the psalm. The word for “soul” means the center of the desires, but can include the whole body.

Psalm 25:2b-3: No Shame. Can his prayer be anymore clear? “Let me not be put to shame.” It may look really bad today, your heart might be in the vice of some crushing reality, but it’s not over. What we have to learn is that there is no shame. Not in the end, not when God’s done. Is there ever an excuse or reason to be betrayed? Pastors, parents, children, people don’t deserve that. [Read more...]

Sermon Audio: When God Delivers His People

On Sunday, March 6, 2011, I had the privilege of preaching at Sovereign Grace Community Church in Sarnia, Ontario. The message, “When God Delivers His People,” was preached from Psalm 14:1-7:

The fool says in his heart, “There is no God.” They are corrupt, they do abominable deeds, there is none who does good. The LORD looks down from heaven on the children of man, to see if there are any who understand, who seek after God. They have all turned aside; together they have become corrupt; there is none who does good, not even one.

 

Have they no knowledge, all the evildoers who eat up my people as they eat bread and do not call upon the LORD? There they are in great terror, for God is with the generation of the righteous. You would shame the plans of the poor, but the LORD is his refuge.

 

Oh, that salvation for Israel would come out of Zion! When the LORD restores the fortunes of his people, let Jacob rejoice, let Israel be glad.

The complete audio is available here: :

You can also download to listen later.

My original sermon notes are available for download here.

I hope you find the message edifying. Please feel free to provide some feedback in the comments. Thanks!

Sermon Audio: Delighting in Devotion

On Sunday, February 20, 2011, I had the privilege of preaching at Gladstone Baptist Church in Gladstone, Ontario. The message, “Delighting in Devotion,” was preached from Psalm 1:1-6:

Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seats of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night.

He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season and its leaf does not wither. The wicked are not so, but are like chaff that the wind drives away.

Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous; for the LORD knows the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish.

The complete audio is available here:

:

You can also download to listen later.

My original sermon notes are available for download here.

I’d love to get your thoughts on how this message has impacted you (if at all). Looking forward to hearing from you!

Sermon Audio: Spiritual Poverty and the Worship of God

On Sunday, July 25, 2010, I had the privilege of preaching a message called Spiritual Poverty and the Word of God at Brussels Community Bible Chapel in Brussels, Ontario. This message from Psalm 63 looks at our need to be satisfied and comforted by God’s presence as we seek Him in His worship.

An MP3 of this message is available here.

The original sermon notes follow: [Read more...]

Blogging the Psalms: Rejoicing in Foreknowledge

O Lord, you have searched me and known me!

You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from afar.

You search out my path and my lying down and are acquainted with all my ways.

Even before a word is on my tongue, behold, O Lord, you know it altogether.

You hem me in, behind and before, and lay your hand upon me.

Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high; I cannot attain it. . . .

For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb.

I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well.

My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth.

Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them. . . .

Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts!

And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting!

Psalm 139: 1-6, 13-16, 23-24

I love Psalm 139. As David moves through the psalm, we see him confronted with a keen awareness of God’s sovereignty—that God fully knows David. He knows every deed.

And he knows every thought.

“Even before a word is on my tongue . . . you know it altogether,” he writes. Every thought. Every word. Every action.

Every ugly sin that David would try to hide from anyone else, God knows it.

How does he react? Guilt? Shame?

Awe. [Read more...]

Blogging the Psalms: The Perfect Worshiper

Who is the perfect worshiper of the Lord? Who is worthy of standing before Him?

O Lord, who shall sojourn in your tent?
Who shall dwell on your holy hill?

He who walks blamelessly and does what is right
and speaks truth in his heart;
who does not slander with his tongue
and does no evil to his neighbor,
nor takes up a reproach against his friend;
in whose eyes a vile person is despised,
but who honors those who fear the Lord;
who swears to his own hurt and does not change;
who does not put out his money at interest
and does not take a bribe against the innocent.
He who does these things shall never be moved.

Psalm 15:1-5

[Read more...]

Blogging the Psalms: Psalm 119

Psalm 119, like few other psalms, shows us passion for God’s word beyond measure. In the longest of all the psalms, the author expresses repeatedly his passion for God’s commands:

My soul is consumed with longing for your rules at all times (v. 20).

Your testimonies are my delight (24).

…my hope is in your rules (v. 43b).

…I find my delight in your commandments, which I love (v. 47).

When I think of your rules from of old, I take comfort, O Lord (v. 52).

My soul longs for your salvation; I hope in your word (v. 81).

How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth (v. 103).

Your testimonies …are the joy of my heart (v. 111).

I open my mouth and pant, because I long for your commandments (v. 131).

In just these few verses, the Psalmist exclaims again and again: “I long for the salvation of the Lord! I am consumed by Your commands! I cannot live without them. They are my delight, they are my joy, and my comfort. They are my hope!” [Read more...]

Blogging the Psalms: Psalm 106

The Psalmist gives us a sharp, stinging description of the absolute ridiculousness of idolatry when he says, “They exchanged the glory of God for the image of an ox that eats grass” (Psalm 106:20).

Read that again:

“They exchanged the glory of God
    for the image of an ox that eats grass.”

They exchanged worshipping God, the Creator of the heavens and the earth, serving Him, gazing upon His glory…

For a cow.

It’d be funny if it wasn’t so pathetic.

And yet… how different are we? How different am I? [Read more...]

Blogging the Psalms: Psalm 71

Something I’ve never fully appreciated in the Psalms until recently is the revealed constant reliance on God of the authors, especially during difficult seasons of life.

It’s truly inspiring to see this, even in a song of lament like Psalm 71 these statements:

Rescue me, O my God, from the hand of the wicked,
from the grasp of the unjust and cruel man.
For you, O Lord, are my hope,
my trust, O Lord, from my youth.
Upon you I have leaned from before my birth;
you are he who took me from my mother’s womb.
My praise is continually of you (v. 4-6, emphasis added).

But I will hope continually
and will praise you yet more and more (v. 14).

The Psalmist boldly proclaims, “You are my hope. My praise is continually of you… I will hope continually and will praise you yet more and more.” He does this while in the midst of trial! He does this while facing persecution from his enemies.

This is a big deal!

The psalms bring this important lesson—that despite our circumstances, despite our trials, despite our hardships, we can and should continue to praise God for all He is and all He has done—in a way that few writings can.

They show us what faith lived out really looks like:

It’s tangible. It’s deep. It’s all encompassing. And it’s awe-inspiring.

Honestly, who among us, who profess to be followers of Jesus, wouldn’t want a faith like this?

I want it. And by God’s grace, I will proclaim like the Psalmist, “You are my hope! I will hope continually and praise you yet more and more.”

For other entries in this series, please visit the Blogging the Psalms page.

Blogging the Psalms: Psalm 50

If I were hungry, I would not tell you,
     for the world and its fullness are mine
— Psalm 50:12

Reading this verse reminded me of something very important that is easy to forget: God does not need us for anything. We do not provide Him with anything that He needs or wants. Truthfully, we cannot… because everything is His.

For the Christian, that includes our time, our money, all of it. It is all His.

Yet we have a strange idea that we “need” to do something for God—that we can somehow earn His favor, or pay Him back for the gift of grace we have received.

But there is one thing we can give Him. It seems like such a small thing, but it’s incredibly difficult for us to do sometimes: We can give Him thanks.

The one who offers thanksgiving as his sacrifice glorifies me;
    to one who orders his way rightly
    I will show the salvation of God!
— Psalm 50:23

[Read more...]

Blogging the Psalms: Psalm 32

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
(Psalm 32:1-2).

This psalm opens with this bold statement: We are blessed when the Lord forgives our sins and transgressions. This weekend, Christians have celebrated the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus—by which all our sins are covered and our transgressions are forgiven. Because “He who knew no sin became sin,” we can now, in Him, “become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor 5:21).

Those who have trust in Christ for the forgiveness of sin, who have been born again by the power of the Holy Spirit, have been given the greatest blessing of all.

But sometimes I wonder—do I really see repentance as the blessing that it truly is? [Read more...]

Blogging the Psalms: Psalm 25

Good and upright is the Lord;
    therefore he instructs sinners in the way.
He leads the humble in what is right,
    and teaches the humble his way.
All the paths of the Lord are steadfast love and faithfulness,
    for those who keep his covenant and his testimonies
(Psalm 25:8-10).

Humility is crucial to understanding and obeying Jesus. We cannot be obedient when we are so consumed with pride that we will not accept teaching or correction. And God will not lead the proud. Indeed, God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble (James 4:6, 1 Pet. 5:5, emphasis mine).

Psalm 25 is a recognition of this fact. The Psalmist is crying out in repentance: “Remember not the sins of my youth or my transgressions” (v. 7); “For your name’s sake, pardon my guilt, for it is great” (v. 11). [Read more...]