Julian Freeman

Freed to live through the death of another.

Category: Psalms (page 1 of 2)

Singing a Hymn with Jesus

The Last Supper

Mark 14.26 has always struck me as a bit of a funny verse. I’ve always wondered just why Mark felt it was necessary to insert this little detail into the narrative of Jesus’s last night. After they finish eating the Passover meal, where Jesus institutes the Lord’s Supper, we hear this: “And when they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.”

Why do we need to know that, I wondered.

As it turns out, this was part of the Passover meal as celebrated according to the Mishnah. The Hallel Psalms (Psalms 115-118) were sung at various points in the evening, especially toward the end, with the drinking of the fourth cup (there are four total). And it all wraps up around midnight.

So this detail is important for a number of reasons, not the least of which that it specifies the chronology of events as passing from evening (14.17) to midnight (here), to cock-crow (14.72), to morning (15.1), just exactly as Jesus had predicted the previous day in the Olivet Discourse (Mark 13.35). This is unfolding exactly as Jesus has predicted the ‘coming’ of the Son of Man would.

But beyond that, my (hopefully sanctified) imagination got working. The disciples got to sing a hymn with Jesus. What would that be like? How cool would it be to sing with my Lord? And then I got to thinking about what they would have actually been singing; so I went back and read those Hallel Psalms.

Psalm 118 is significant, of course, because it’s the Psalm that the people are reciting when Jesus approaches Jerusalem in Mark 11. Psalm 117 is glorious, but short, so probably not what they would have been singing (or at least not all that they would have sung). Psalm 115 would probably have been sung earlier, leading to them likely (this is definitely speculation) singing Psalm 116 as Jesus prepares to go out to Gethsemane.

Can I challenge you with something? At some point today, read Psalm 116 as Jesus would have sung it that night. Imagine what was going on in our Lord’s heart as he prepared for Gethsemane and Golgotha. Imagine how these words took on meaning like never before:

I love the Lord, because he has heard my voice and my pleas for mercy.
Because he inclined his ear to me,therefore I will call on him as long as I live.
The snares of death encompassed me; the pangs of Sheol laid hold on me; I suffered distress and anguish.
Then I called on the name of the Lord: “O Lord, I pray, deliver my soul!”

Gracious is the Lord, and righteous; our God is merciful.
The Lord preserves the simple; when I was brought low, he saved me.
Return, O my soul, to your rest; for the Lord has dealt bountifully with you.

For you have delivered my soul from death, my eyes from tears, my feet from stumbling;
I will walk before the Lord in the land of the living.

I believed, even when I spoke, “I am greatly afflicted”;
I said in my alarm, “All mankind are liars.”

What shall I render to the Lord for all his benefits to me?
I will lift up the cup of salvation and call on the name of the Lord,
I will pay my vows to the Lord in the presence of all his people.

Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints.
O Lord, I am your servant; I am your servant, the son of your maidservant.
You have loosed my bonds.
I will offer to you the sacrifice of thanksgiving and call on the name of the Lord.
I will pay my vows to the Lord in the presence of all his people,
in the courts of the house of the Lord, in your midst, O Jerusalem.
Praise the Lord! (Psalm 116, ESV)

And now, think about us. How amazing is it that we can sing about God hearing our pleas for mercy because Christ went to Golgotha? How precious is it that he inclines his ear to us because he did not incline his ear to his Son in Gethsemane? How wonderful that the snares of death which encompassed Christ have been defeated so that I will never feel the pangs of Sheol! I can call on the name of the Lord and ask him to deliver me, and know for certain that he will because he first delivered Jesus, the firstborn from the dead.

Now I actually can sing Psalm 116 with my Lord in an even truer sense than the disciples did on that fateful night. What they sung, unaware, I sing with retrospective faith, believing that Jesus has forever filled up the meaning of this Psalm, and will always sing it with me.

Powlison’s Antipsalm 23

David Powlison writes an Antipsalm 23. He explains, ‘The antipsalm tells what life feels like and looks like whenever God vanishes from sight.’

I’m on my own.
No one looks out for me or protects me.
I experience a continual sense of need. Nothing’s quite right.
I’m always restless. I’m easily frustrated and often disappointed.
It’s a jungle — I feel overwhelmed. It’s a desert — I’m thirsty.
My soul feels broken, twisted, and stuck. I can’t fix myself.
I stumble down some dark paths.
Still, I insist: I want to do what I want, when I want, how I want.
But life’s confusing. Why don’t things ever really work out?
I’m haunted by emptiness and futility — shadows of death.
I fear the big hurt and final loss.
Death is waiting for me at the end of every road,
but I’d rather not think about that.
I spend my life protecting myself. Bad things can happen.
I find no lasting comfort.
I’m alone … facing everything that could hurt me.
Are my friends really friends?
Other people use me for their own ends.
I can’t really trust anyone. No one has my back.
No one is really for me — except me.
And I’m so much all about ME, sometimes it’s sickening.
I belong to no one except myself.
My cup is never quite full enough. I’m left empty.
Disappointment follows me all the days of my life.
Will I just be obliterated into nothingness?
Will I be alone forever, homeless, free-falling into void?
Sartre said, “Hell is other people.”
I have to add, “Hell is also myself.”
It’s a living death,
and then I die.

Sound too much like your life? Read Powlison’s whole article here.

HT: Between Two Worlds

Bob Kauflin on David Powlison on the Imprecatory Psalms

Bob Kauflin (lead worshiper at Covenant Life Church) has posted notes on what looks like it was an awesome session from the WorshipGod ’08 Conference. He’s also got a link to download the mp3 of the sermon.

Check it out: David Powlison on the Imprecatory Psalms

(Isn’t it interesting how much Powlison looks like he’s imprecating someone? You gotta love a preacher that gets into character.)

Psalm 16

In a previous post I suggested a four-level approach to interpreting some of the Psalms along the lines of redemptive-history. Here I hope to model that in an abbreviated form, using Psalm 16.

1. Read the Psalm as David sings.
David cries to God as king of God’s people, in dependence on him alone. As leader of the people his delight is in the saints (the holy ones). As their leader he won’t participate in the worship of idols which leads only to destruction. Rather, he will worship and follow the Lord, because in him he has beautiful inheritance (the promise of a son to sit on his throne). As a man after God’s own heart, David could indeed rejoice in the counsel and leading of the Lord. He knew that as a follow of Yahweh, he would not be abandoned to utter destruction, but that the Lord would finally redeem him. He looked forward to the ‘pleasures forevermore’ in the presence of God.

2. Read the Psalm as Israel sings.
The righteous of the people of Israel would rejoice that their king called on the Lord for help, and they would follow his example. The warnings of verse four (sorrows for following another God) contrasted with the promises of verses five and six (joy in God) served as general admonitions to each other to follow hard after their God, since there was no joy to be found elsewhere. As a people they could rejoice in the inheritance of the land that they had been promised. The Lord had given them his counsel in Torah and said he would dwell in their midst if they followed him. As a promise of God, they knew that the ‘holy one’ (those who were righteous) would not be abandoned by God in death, but would be saved from judgement.

3. Read the Psalm as Jesus sings.
In his human life, Jesus continually and perfectly sought refuge in his Father. The life that he had in himself was the Father’s life, the words that he spoke were the Father’s words, and the works that he did were what he saw the Father doing. He takes delight in the saints (the righteous) who hear his word and believe. He would not give in to the idolatry of the world, but perfectly fulfil the law in a perfectly pure life. His chosen portion and his lot were the person of his Father, through the mediation of the Spirit–his food and drink was to do the Father’s will. In a truer sense than any mere human could ever know, when Jesus spent whole nights in prayer he could sing ‘the Lord gives me counsel; in the night also my heart instructs me.’ Because God was at his right hand, he was not finally shaken–even through all his suffering. His faith in his Father did not waver, so he was glad and rejoiced, knowing that his soul and flesh would be secure in the end. As Paul saw in Acts 13.35, this generic ‘holy one’ who would not be abandoned is specifically and ultimately fulfilled in the ‘Holy One’ who is Messiah, crucified and then resurrected. He who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life endured the cross for the joy that was set before him–he can sing more than any other: ‘in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.’ He can sing this as the one who has entered into God’s presence in a way that none of us ever have or could.

4. Read the Psalm as Christians sing.
God, in Christ, is our only refuge from sin, Satan, and death. We have nothing but sin apart from the work of the Spirit of Christ, which he sent. The ‘saints’ are those who have been sanctified (set apart) by Christ’s blood–and in our church we delight. We know that the sorrows of those who run after other gods will multiply because we have seen the ultimate sorrow for sin: the cross of Christ. We know that God is for us, and we know we have a glorious inheritance in Christ: we have been blessed with all the blessings of the heavenly places, and God didn’t spare even his own Son, so how will he now not freely also give us all things? If he is for us, who can be against us? We surely cannot be shaken, because Christ was not and cannot be forsaken–we are ultimately secure. Since ‘the Holy One’ was not forsaken, we know that his ‘holy ones’ will not be forsaken; he has gone before us to make a way. Christ has secured for us pleasure forevermore and fulfilment of joy because he has prayed for us, that we would be with him, where he is, to see his glory and not die. There is therefore now no condemnation, but only joy in the presence of God.

What a glorious thought! What great reasons to sing!

A Redemptive-Historical Approach

I thought that this morning I could offer another method I enjoy using while meditating on the Psalms. I don’t really have a name for it, but it takes a sort of Redemptive-Historical approach. Using this method I’ll read through the Psalm on four levels–which usually means reading through the Psalm at least a few times.

One mistake I’ve seen people make a lot of times is try to jump straight from the Psalmist’s experience to their own. While this can be done sometimes without doing harm to the text, I think it generally misses the point of the Psalm, which is always to illustrate some truth about God, and how to live under his revelation (which, for the Christian, is often different than it was for David).

So here’s what I do. Read through the Psalm once as David (or whoever the psalmist is). Think through his experience and his actual life situation (especially if there’s an ascription). What did these words mean to him, in that moment of his life? This step seems overly simple, but it’s something we often overlook in our rush to apply the text to ourselves. We forget that there was an actual psalmist who actually lived, who actually went through the things he’s writing about. We don’t want to forget that.

Second, I read through the Psalm from the perspective of Israel. This book was their collection of worship songs. How would they have sung these songs over the different periods of their history? Think through the stages of Israel’s development, decadence, destruction, and return from exile? How would these words have taken on new life for them as they clung to the deliverance of God that they had seen (the Exodus) and the promises of God for the future for hope, salvation, a land, the presence of God, etc. Put yourself in their shoes and think through these words and they take on new life.

Third, read the Psalm as if it is a prayer of Jesus. Now, we want to be careful here because not all of the words of the Psalm may rightly be seen as Christ’s. Confessions of sin and the like must be seen as the words of the psalmist and those who followed him only. This shouldn’t stop us from seeing the heart of Christ in the Psalms, though. Very often, as David pours out his heart (which is a heart after God’s), it reflects Christ’s own situation and feelings very well. This is typology at its greatest! David’s words are fulfilled–their meaning is ‘filled up’–by Christ’s experience. At the same time, they are heightened (e.g. if it was true for David that he was hated without cause, how much more for Christ!), and crystallized (e.g. Psalm 69.21: ‘for my thirst they gave me sour wine to drink’). The Great King who really has the heart of God, who was known as a man of prayer, who was a Warrior in the truest sense, who was ultimately hated without a cause and betrayed by his friends is Jesus. He ultimately fulfils the Psalms.

Finally, we get to us. How do the Psalms relate to us? They apply to us as followers of the one who has fulfilled them. Jesus taught that those who follow him will be associated with him, and therefore suffer persecution for righteousness’ sake. Where the Psalms speak of forgiveness, atonement, the presence of God, the temple of God, we know even better than the psalmist how we ought to rejoice because of these things! The psalmist knew that the Lord made atonement for sins (Ps 65.3), but we know how he has done it! What the psalmist looked to and hoped in as promise, we look back on Christ and see as fulfilled promise. Our God has kept his word, and so our hope is sure. Even more than the psalmist ever could we can rightly call our God our hope, strength, shelter, tower, and refuge.

For the sake of length, I’ll end here and hopefully give a concrete example from a Psalm soon.

A Friday Meditation on the Psalms

In keeping with our current theme, I wanted to post something on interpreting the Psalms today. That being said, I am scrambling to get up to the cottage, so I didn’t have time to write something new and thoughtful. But I came across this in my journal from a while ago, and it ‘just happened’ to be a meditation on one of the Psalms I’m reading today.

This is a model, but not an explanation, of one method that I’ve found helpful in interpreting and applying the Psalms to my heart. I pray through the Psalm using the ‘How Much More’ method.

The Psalms are reflections on living life before God under the law. They are offerings of praise and prayer to the God who has revealed himself in the Old Covenant. We, however, worship God in the New Covenant, so our worship–while it is still to the same God–is more informed, because God has been ultimately revealed in Christ. Our praise and prayer, then, must be a reflection of living life under the New Covenant.

The ‘How Much More’ method just finds a place where God has revealed an attribute of himself, or where the psalmist speaks of the deliverance or judgement of God, and says: ‘If this was true for them, how much more have we seen this in the New Covenant, now that Christ has come.’

What follows below is a journal entry. It’s a personal meditation from Psalm 34. Please only take it for what it’s worth. I highly recommend you read the Psalm before reading the prayer below.

——-

The psalmist makes his boast in the Lord and admonishes the humble because he has been humbled. He was delivered by the Lord’s mercy through his humiliation. How could he be proud? How could he boast of delivering himself by his might, worth, or wisdom? Far be it from me to boast of my salvation and my deliverance when I was humbled far beyond him.

David declares that he sought the Lord in his fears–and not without tears–and that God heard him and saved him from all his troubles. What were David’s troubles but earthly concerns and cares for his life? My God, these are dire, but what of my soul? If David should cry and seek with tears, then how much more should I? David was afraid of those who could kill the body, but I am numb to the fear of him who could destroy body and soul.

David found God’s deliverance super-abundant. The Angel of the Lord encamped and delivered him from his greatest needs. Therefore, he admonishes me today to taste and see. What can he mean by this except that I should call on the Lord in my fears and tears, even as he had done? He is confident of this: having tasted, none will be disappointed.

How true have I found this? Millions have called on the Lord in their distress and not been disappointed. The Angel of the Lord–Jesus Christ, God himself–encamps around me, delivering not just my body, but my soul from its greatest enemies: sin and death.

And now, Lord, I pray that in my current need, I would still find that as I taste, I find you good. My God, in your grace, be my delight, be my joy, be my soul’s rest. For you alone are Delight, Joy, and Sabbath. I know this because I have tasted.

To what shall I compare this heart of mine which restlessly seeks its joy? It is like a cup that must be filled by either air or liquid. As the filling of a cup with coffee expels the air, so my desire for you–when it fills my heart–expels every earthly desire. Likewise, if I fill my cup with air, it necessarily means there is no liquid present. My heart cannot be full of you and desires for this world, its toys, and its pleasures.

Or perhaps these things may be compared to a man’s appetite. Lord, I know that the only thing limiting my joy is my capacity for experiencing you. Just as a man at a buffet is limited only by the size of his stomach, so I find that my joy is only limited by my finite capacity for you who are Joy.

How can a man increase his joy in you? Only by experiencing you. As a man increases his appetite over time by eating, so my capacity for joy will only increase as I fill myself continually with you and your joy.

What a marvellous thought! I can taste and see, eat my fill, be completely satisfied in my eating, and all the while find that I am increasing my capacity for the joy I’ll find in you tomorrow. No wonder David says, ‘Taste and see..’.

The discipline of regularly finding my joy in God today is an investment. It secures a supply of joy for tomorrow. What a glorious God!

But then, how tragic to waste today…

Thoughts on Reading the Psalms

Here are just a few things that I find helpful on a very basic level with regard to reading the Psalms as a Christan.

  1. Read the Psalms regularly. One of the reasons the Psalms can be so little help to some Christians in their time of need is simply this: We’re not familiar with them. They’re a different type of literature than we’re used to reading or hearing preached (usually a gospel or an epistle). When times of hardship and suffering, or feelings of guilt and depression, or seasons of joy and exuberance come, we don’t know how to use the Psalms because we don’t know where to look in the Psalms to find a suitable song for our emotions. Familiarizing ourself with the basic contents of the book and the different types of songs in the book will help us be quicker to flee to the Psalms in whatever season.
  2. Think hard through the Psalms. There are some tough passages and some tough expressions of anger, some strong words of love, some passionate promises to God… how much of this can we agree with? Can we apply it all? How much of what David writes is simply poetic expression (i.e. hyperbole, simile, metaphor, merism, etc.) and how much of it is ‘literal’? Is it appropriate to pray these particular things as a member of the New Covenant? These are good questions to ask regularly–they are tough issues that each Christian will need to work through. Unfortunately, since there are some tough questions attendant with reading the Psalms, this often scares some Christians away. But it shouldn’t!
  3. Develop a plan for reading the Psalms. Here’s mine, that I’ve used several times. To read through the whole book of Psalms (a seemingly daunting task) really isn’t that hard. You can do it no problem in a month. On the first day of the month (i.e. July 1), I read Psalms 1, 31, 61, 91, 121. On the second, I read Psalms 2, 32, 62, 92, 122. Today I read Psalms 3, 33, 63, 93, 123. There are 150 Psalms, so 30 days at this pace will get you through quite easily. Reading this intensely will help with both 1. and 2. above as well.
  4. Get help. Pick up a commentary if you need to. Ask one of your elders or a mature Christian you know well to help you through some of the tough questions that will come up.
  5. Pray. It’s the word of the Lord, and therefore, it is the job of the Holy Spirit to illuminate and to apply. Ask him in faith, with no doubting, and he will.
  6. Ask to identify, not just understand. Sometimes we can become accustomed to just trying to ‘understand’ the words of the Bible. The Psalms will have nothing of that. If you’re not affected in your heart by the truths of God and his work in revelation and redemption, then the Psalms won’t make sense to you. Pray that the Spirit of God would give not just insight, but a heart that is genuinely affected by what it sees. Hearts affected by God’s truth, for God’s glory is the goal of the Psalms.

Hopefully I’ll be able to post more on the interpretation of Psalms and how to ‘get to Christ’ from the Psalms shortly.

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