Blogging the Psalmist

“Why should anyone devote a contemporary blog to David, to delving deeply into his life and prayers and to reflecting and meditating on his poetry?” one might ask. It certainly is a legitimate question and one that deserves more than just a word or two in response. So I have attempted to address it as thoroughly yet succinctly as I can in the “Why David?” section of this blog. I invite you to take a look.

But before you go there, let me be the one to pose and answer a couple of related questions: why am I writing this blog? and why now? It’s a story I love to tell. You can read it here.

The Heart of Joy

Swallowtail with Broken Wing

In response to my June post on the Heart of Happiness, a thoughtful reader commented “I have frequently used joy instead of happy” and inquired whether or not I thought that substitution would “work.” I responded that I did not know, but I certainly would take a look at the Hebrew text and search out an answer.  Although I could easily recite from memory several verses in the psalms that speak of joy, I had never really spent much time contemplating the psalmist’s focus on joy or examining the nature of  joy in the psalms. [Read more…]

The Heart of Happiness

Light Breaks over Montana

Both regular and casual readers of the psalms might legitimately question my supposition that the heart of “the man after God’s own heart” was one primarily characterized by and possessed of happiness. In light of the fact that the psalter is heavily laden with poems of complaint and lament, many of which were composed by David, I realize that mine is a bold statement. But I believe that it is supported both by the text and the life of David. So I will attempt now not so much to defend my assertion as to lead others along the path that led me to that conclusion. [Read more…]

The Silence of the Heart

Footprints in New Snow

Although it was centuries after King David’s death that Habakkuk wrote “But the Lord is in His holy temple; let all the earth keep silence before Him,”(Hab 2:20), it is certainly reasonable to expect the great psalmist might have uttered Habakkuk’s words on more than one occasion. We do not have any Biblical record of his doing so exactly, but he does begin Psalm 62 with the straightforward declaration, “For God alone my soul waits in silence” (Ps 62:1). So the central position that silence holds in David’s spiritual sojourns is clear. For him, it seems, such silent waiting was essential to opening the way to hear clearly from his Lord.  [Read more…]

The Heart of Blessing (Part Four)

Small Blaze of Fall

The final section of Psalm 103 is the shortest of the four, containing only three verses. But the all of verses 20 through 22 is the most expansive including in one small word the whole creation, animate and inanimate, earthly and celestial. And the entirety of this all is called upon by the psalmist to “Bless the Lord” in what I imagine as a glorious cosmic symphony.  In addition, the last line of the poem– Bless, O my being, the Lord! –repeats the opening line using a literary device known as envelope structure, which is characteristic of many of the psalms and other ancient Hebrew poetry. In a handful of words, it neatly envelops the entire psalm by repeating the primary theme around which it is constructed. In this case, the poet also uses it to bring the universal tribute back to his own intensely personal outpouring of reverence, homage and joy. [Read more…]

The Heart of Blessing (Part Three)

Just South of Inverness

In my initial post on Psalm 103, I designated this third of the four alls, or sections, that comprise the poem as the “contextual” one. While that may be accurate in terms of the literary purpose it serves, the terminology falls extraordinarily short of capturing the essence of verses 6 through 19. This portion of the psalm truly centers on the heart of blessing — that is, on the manner in which God interacts in unique covenant relationship with David and with all of His people. [Read more…]

The Heart of Blessing (Part Two)

What I Find, What I Keep

In this Part Two of the Heart of Blessing we begin looking at the second of the alls Psalm 103 presents, namely the all of the character and nature of the God of Israel. Surely David understood as well as any man that no language can fully convey what the human mind can only partially perceive. He also seemed to realize that the various formal aspects of poetry could provide him the best tool through which to intertwine verbal expression with nonverbal or spiritual thought, so he drew on that skill in the intricate crafting of this psalm. Within that framework, we now begin to look for the heart of this praise song by mining the mother lode of verses two through five. [Read more…]

The Heart of Blessing (Part One)

Psalm 103 is surely one of the most familiar of all the psalms and its opening line often quoted or adapted in prayer, sermon and song. The majority of the standard English texts over the centuries– from the King James to the recent English Standard Version and numerous others as well– render its opening line with exactly the same words:  “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and everything that is within me, bless His Holy name.”  I have loved that verse (Ps 103:1a) for as long as I can remember knowing it. But my study of the holy poem in its original Hebrew has opened my appreciation to scholar Robert Alter’s translation of those critical first words: “Bless, O my being, the Lord, and everything in me, His holy name.” [Read more…]

The Ascending Heart

Light Bathes the Outer Banks

“I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in His word I hope; my soul waits for the Lord, more than watchmen for the morning, more than watchmen for the morning,” (Ps 130:5-6) wrote the unidentified psalmist of the eleventh Psalm of Ascent. The lack of ascription of this psalm to a particular poet seems to enhance the universality of its application. It removes the necessity or temptation to confine it to a particular place, time, set of circumstances or person. The speaker could be you, or me, or even David. The anonymity gives the poem and this verse of it a power and possession that each of us can take as our own hope and petition. [Read more…]

The Quiet Heart

Guatemalan Lake

One of the psalms that I see most often quoted (other than the 23rd, of course) and that I hear referred to as a favorite is Psalm 46, a song attributed to the Sons of Korah. It begins “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble” and then moves to the line that I personally find the most compelling: “Be still, and know that I am God” (Ps 46:10). What exactly does being still before God mean? Surely it refers to more than a state of physical inactivity. More important, how do we achieve that stillness, especially in the hyper-charged age in which we live? I believe– and think the psalmist David for whom the Sons of Korah worked as temple musicians and choristers and worship leaders, would agree– that our stillness must be preceded and accompanied by silence. [Read more…]

The Shepherd’s Heart

The beauty of the psalms, like most great poetry, resides in its independent meaning. That is, the poems can and do speak to us whether or not we know the context in which they were written or anything about the poet who composed them. Now I suspect that some of you, who read last week’s post, are scratching your heads. “Hold on,” you must be saying, “this seems to contradict what you wrote last week. Wasn’t the emphasis on looking at the work in an historical and situational context.” [Read more…]