Reformed Interpretation of Psalms

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nwink

Puritan Board Sophomore
How can we take the Psalms as promises or use them in prayer? Specifically, for example, how can we take Psalm 91:10-12 in application to our lives: "There shall no evil befall thee, neither shall any plague come nigh thy dwelling. For he shall give his angels charge over thee, to keep thee in all thy ways. They shall bear thee up in their hands, lest thou dash thy foot against a stone."? Was this only about Christ? Or how could I apply this to my life and be comforted by it or pray this since sometimes evil does come upon me or I might suffer a plague?

Or how about verse 5 "Thou shalt not be afraid for the terror by night; nor for the arrow that flieth by day; " How could I apply this in my life if I did get hit by an arrow? It wouldn't make sense to pray after getting struck by an arrow, "Lord, your Word says that I will not be afraid of the arrow that flies by day!" How could I take Psalm 145:15 as a promise if I ended up dying of starvation: "The eyes of all wait upon thee; and thou givest them their meat in due season." ? How could I trust in the Lord as my fortress if I did end up getting captured and killed by the enemy? How could I pray Psalm 103 if I did waste away of a disease?

I hope it is clear that I am not doubting God's Word. I am simply trying to understand how I can apply/interpret the Psalms to pray them and trust in the comfort therein found in this part of God's Word. I need help understanding how we can apply this Wisdom Literature to our lives.
 

seajayrice

Puritan Board Sophomore
Does the passage promise you won't be struck by an arrow or plague?

Rom 8:28 And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.

Rom 8:38 For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come,
Rom 8:39 Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
 

nwink

Puritan Board Sophomore
Does the passage promise you won't be struck by an arrow or plague?

CJ, you're right -- the passage doesn't promise that. And wisdom literature is not the same as Romans. But that still doesn't answer my question. I want to know how I can find comfort in the Psalms. What should it look like in my life to believe that I will not need to fear the arrow that flieth by day? What should it look like when I'm wasting away of disease...to remember that the Lord heals all our diseases (Ps 103)? If I was on the brink of starvation, how could I find comfort in the Lord who gives food in season (Ps 145)? How can I rightly pray the Psalms and apply them in my life? That is my question.
 

seajayrice

Puritan Board Sophomore
Hi Nathan,

Brother, read the Psalm in it's context and ask if the Psalmist hopes lie in freedom from suffering or something weightier.

2Co 4:17 For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory;
2Co 4:18 While we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal.



Psa 103:1 A Psalm of David. Bless the LORD, O my soul: and all that is within me, bless his holy name.
Psa 103:2 Bless the LORD, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits:
Psa 103:3 Who forgiveth all thine iniquities; who healeth all thy diseases;
Psa 103:4 Who redeemeth thy life from destruction; who crowneth thee with lovingkindness and tender mercies;
Psa 103:5 Who satisfieth thy mouth with good things; so that thy youth is renewed like the eagle's.
Psa 103:6 The LORD executeth righteousness and judgment for all that are oppressed.
Psa 103:7 He made known his ways unto Moses, his acts unto the children of Israel.
Psa 103:8 The LORD is merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and plenteous in mercy.
Psa 103:9 He will not always chide: neither will he keep his anger for ever.
Psa 103:10 He hath not dealt with us after our sins; nor rewarded us according to our iniquities.
Psa 103:11 For as the heaven is high above the earth, so great is his mercy toward them that fear him.
Psa 103:12 As far as the east is from the west, so far hath he removed our transgressions from us.
Psa 103:13 Like as a father pitieth his children, so the LORD pitieth them that fear him.
Psa 103:14 For he knoweth our frame; he remembereth that we are dust.
Psa 103:15 As for man, his days are as grass: as a flower of the field, so he flourisheth.
Psa 103:16 For the wind passeth over it, and it is gone; and the place thereof shall know it no more.
Psa 103:17 But the mercy of the LORD is from everlasting to everlasting upon them that fear him, and his righteousness unto children's children;
Psa 103:18 To such as keep his covenant, and to those that remember his commandments to do them.
Psa 103:19 The LORD hath prepared his throne in the heavens; and his kingdom ruleth over all.
Psa 103:20 Bless the LORD, ye his angels, that excel in strength, that do his commandments, hearkening unto the voice of his word.
Psa 103:21 Bless ye the LORD, all ye his hosts; ye ministers of his, that do his pleasure.
Psa 103:22 Bless the LORD, all his works in all places of his dominion: bless the LORD, O my soul.
 

nwink

Puritan Board Sophomore
Brother, read the Psalm in it's context and ask if the Psalmist hopes lie in freedom from suffering or something weightier.

CJ, I definitely agree with you that the Psalmist's hope is not in temporal freedom from death/suffering, but in God. However, that still doesn't answer my question. As for the Psalms about not fearing the arrow, being provided food, not striking foot against a stone, having diseases healed, having no evil befall me...how can I rightly pray these Psalms and apply them in my life/experience?
 

seajayrice

Puritan Board Sophomore
Brother, read the Psalm in it's context and ask if the Psalmist hopes lie in freedom from suffering or something weightier.

CJ, I definitely agree with you that the Psalmist's hope is not in temporal freedom from death/suffering, but in God. However, that still doesn't answer my question. As for the Psalms about not fearing the arrow, being provided food, not striking foot against a stone, having diseases healed, having no evil befall me...how can I rightly pray these Psalms and apply them in my life/experience?

The answer lies in Christ. He is the fulfillment, the promise the very essence of Psalm 103. You will get sick, you will stub your toes, I pray you won't be pierced by a literal arrow! Obviously the passage does not say you won't suffer these things so what then does it say? Look at vs 103:3, what does that verse say to you? Jesus Christ. I suspect your difficulty is not so much your prayer or piety but lies in your understanding of 103 as it pertains to Christ. God Bless and maybe some of the wonderfully pastoral (and more erudite) members can chime in here! I must withdraw.

May God Bless you with great understanding.
 

EverReforming

Puritan Board Freshman
6Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, 7casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you. 8Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. 9Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world. 10And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. 11To him be the dominion forever and ever. Amen. 1 Peter 5:6-11 (ESV)

Its not so much that we might not be pierced by arrows (literal or otherwise), experience starvation, or other physical maladies. The point lies in the fact that we have a greater hope than these temporal concerns. As to what it "looks like." That's a bit of an esoteric question, I think, but really, what it comes down to is that in the midst of life, whether through good times or bad, our eyes are turned on Him rather than focusing on the things of this world.
 

nwink

Puritan Board Sophomore
Its not so much that we might not be pierced by arrows (literal or otherwise), experience starvation, or other physical maladies. The point lies in the fact that we have a greater hope than these temporal concerns. As to what it "looks like." That's a bit of an esoteric question, I think, but really, what it comes down to is that in the midst of life, whether through good times or bad, our eyes are turned on Him rather than focusing on the things of this world.

George, thanks for your thoughts -- I agree with what you said. Yes, we do have a greater hope than temporal concerns. I understand bad times will happen and that we have to understand the Psalms in light of the entirety of Scripture. I understand that when we put our hope/confidence in God alone, we won't fear man or the arrow that flies by day, even though we should get hurt by man. We can trust God that though we starve to death, He still is faithful, able to meet every need and is good. In any maladies, we know that God sovereignly rules over all things for His glory and the good of His Church.

I guess what I'm looking for is a spelled-out hermeneutic of how to interpret the Psalms and Wisdom Literature. My understanding is that the Psalms are part of God's revelation of Himself and inspired praise of God, who He is, and how we can relate to and understand God through good and bad times. The Psalms, I think, can also be accurately used as prayers (when we interpret them rightly -- in other words, I couldn't pray for God to give ME the nations as my inheritance, since Psalm 2 is a psalm referring to King Jesus receiving the nations, as the context clearly shows)...yet when I picture myself facing good/bad times and praying the Psalms, I'm not sure exactly how to pray some parts of them.
 

Contra_Mundum

Pilgrim, Alien, Stranger
Staff member
How can we take the Psalms as promises or use them in prayer? Specifically, for example, how can we take Psalm 91:10-12 in application to our lives: "There shall no evil befall thee, neither shall any plague come nigh thy dwelling. For he shall give his angels charge over thee, to keep thee in all thy ways. They shall bear thee up in their hands, lest thou dash thy foot against a stone."? Was this only about Christ? Or how could I apply this to my life and be comforted by it or pray this since sometimes evil does come upon me or I might suffer a plague?

Or how about verse 5 "Thou shalt not be afraid for the terror by night; nor for the arrow that flieth by day; " How could I apply this in my life if I did get hit by an arrow? It wouldn't make sense to pray after getting struck by an arrow, "Lord, your Word says that I will not be afraid of the arrow that flies by day!" How could I take Psalm 145:15 as a promise if I ended up dying of starvation: "The eyes of all wait upon thee; and thou givest them their meat in due season." ? How could I trust in the Lord as my fortress if I did end up getting captured and killed by the enemy? How could I pray Psalm 103 if I did waste away of a disease?

I hope it is clear that I am not doubting God's Word. I am simply trying to understand how I can apply/interpret the Psalms to pray them and trust in the comfort therein found in this part of God's Word. I need help understanding how we can apply this Wisdom Literature to our lives.
Nathan,
Consider first how Ps.91:10-12 fits its primary referent, Christ.
"There shall no evil befall thee, neither shall any plague come nigh thy dwelling. For he shall give his angels charge over thee, to keep thee in all thy ways. They shall bear thee up in their hands, lest thou dash thy foot against a stone."?
This is not a passage that was simply there so that Satan could take it, and try to use it against Christ, one day many centuries after, high up on a Temple pinnacle.

1) We understand that Satan was misapplying the text.
2) The text does point to Christ, and apply to Christ--this is axiomatic.
3) Just take the first phrase, "No evil will befall thee." Wait... didn't Christ die a hideous death? Didn't the wrath of God strike him with unrestrained fury? Sounds to me like evil befell him.
4) Of course, evil befell him as he stood in the place of sinners, and as he bore their ultimate penalty. And just as ultimately, he supersedes that ultimacy with the blessedness by which he finishes.

5) So, if the passage applies to Christ (it does), and therefore NO evil befalls him, we understand that this is speaking in final terms. Pick your worst situation: is that the way it will finish? No, it cannot conclude in an evil result, for that would render the promise of God a lie. It would mean that perhaps the cross either didn't happen, or that it proved Jesus wasn't who he claimed to be. The first suggestion is exactly what most Mslms believe--that Jesus didn't die on a cross, because he was good, and God wouldn't let something so awful happen to one of his prophets. The second suggestion is what most Jws today believe.

6) So, as you pray these words (and you should--Psalms is a Christian book, a believers book) you should pray believing that:
a) God is able to deliver you from evil now, he may turn the "arrow" aside the next time one comes your way.
b) He is the one who is responsible for all the deliverances that DO come. If you do not waste away, who gets the credit?
b) Though he slay you, yet will you trust him. Is there anything you can lose (that he takes away) that he will not prove himself more generous in the end, unto faith?

7) This is why we believe, contrary to the "history of religions" people, that ancients like the Psalmists DID believe in everlasting life. They knew about starvation. They knew about untimely death, tragic death, illness, and grief. Were their words written in a kind of naiive hopefulness? A kind of "superman complex" that they took with them onto the battlefield, and into dangerous (and not-so-dangerous) situations of all kinds? It is too silly to impute such stupidity to them.

In other words, your dilemma is also the Psalmists' own dilemma, if it is a true dilemma. Their confident words, or the strength of their faith, "invincible denial" didn't keep them from one day ending up lifeless in the dust from some cause. Nor do they only mean to imply that their end must be the best or most peaceful of ends ("I won't die in difficulty")--since that's the best any of us can hope for--and they only wrote hyperbolicly. They believe in a God who is beyond all circumstances, who rules over all circumstances. Delivered now, it is his doing. Or delivered later (You will not leave my soul in Sheol, you will not let your Holy One see decay, Ps.16:10), it is still his doing.
 

Jack K

Puritan Board Doctor
You asked the same question a month ago, and I'm glad to see it's getting more attention this time around. But since I'm a self-obsessed guy who likes to see my own thoughts on the screen, allow me quote myself from that earlier thread:

The Psalms are comprised mostly of song and prayers. As such, they are not statements of promise in the same way that certain other Bible passages are. They are expressions of song and prayer based on the character, faithfulness and promises of God. So we can sing about no arrows hitting us, but it doesn't mean no arrow will ever hit us. The principle behind the song is that God's protection and goodness toward us is sure. It's so sure we can sing about how arrows won't even hit us. Yet, we know it's possible that in our particular circumstance God might decide the best and most faithful action toward us is to actually let us get hit by an arrow.

So don't take most statements in the Psalms as promises the same way you might take, say, Hebrews 13:5, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” They're different types of literature, meant to be taken different ways.

The American church today really has a problem with this. We've been so taught that the Bible has sure promises and firm rules (which it does) that we start to read all the Bible as promises and rules, including wisdom literature. In doing so, we end up with statements that don't make sense in real life, like the "promise" that arrows won't hit us. Worse, we also rob the Bible of its ability to speak to us in ways other than absolute promises or rules. God doesn't have an absolute promise about arrows. But isn't it great that he's still given us a song to sing when we face arrows? We have encouragement and instruction from his Word even in such situations.

What I was trying to say is that amid our uncertainties of life these Psalms give us something better than promises about life's details. They give us truisms and certainties about the character and faithfulness of God, regardless of life's details. God in his wisdom allows much of what will happen to us to be uncertain to us. But even in such times, he has encouragement for us in the Psalms.
 
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