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.