Threading the Psalms together

21 May

I was raised and trained to read the psalms one at a time. They were great for a quick quiet time, or for a one off sermon when you weren’t too sure what to preach between 2 sermon series. How wrong I was!  Over the last few years I’ve been challenged to change those ideas, and read them like I read the rest of the Bible: taking note of what is going on around the psalm. The fact that they were collected into 5 books should have given me a fat clue that something like that was happening. But I missed that one! Take Psalm 15 for example…

Psalm 15 is easily divided into a question, an answer, and a outcome.

  • Question: who shall live in God’s presence, v.1?
  • Answer: those who live in the presence of God will do the 10 things listed in v.2-5.
  • Outcome: those who live in the presence of God will never be moved, v.5.

If this psalm is read carelessly, salvation by works, rather than grace, could easily be taught: “If you want to live in the presence of God, you must do the following 10 things, to be secure,” which of course goes against the whole thrust of the Biblical Gospel.

So how do I avoid that error?  Read Psalm 14 and 16, alongside Psalm 15.  Psalm 14 is insistent that no one does good, not even one – all people are sinful to the core. This of course makes obeying the commands of Psalm 15 impossible. Yet in Psalm 16:2 David says, “You are my Lord; I have no good apart from you,” implying that he has good in him, but that he has been given goodness by the Lord.

Put the 3 psalms together, and this is what you get:

Psalm 14

  • the fool rejects God and does no good (which Ps 2 says, leads to judgment)
  • but the wise person takes refuge in the Lord (also in Ps 2) and

Psalm 15

  • begins to do good things acknowledging

Psalm 16

  • that any good he does, comes from the Lord, who has made him good.

Read through the eyes of the NT this is what we see:

  1. Paul quotes Ps 14 in Romans 3 when he proves the foolish sinfulness of all mankind.
  2. Ps 14:7 says that as a result, humanity needs salvation. “Oh, that salvation for Israel would come out of Zion.” This is fulfilled with the coming of Christ to die as Saviour.
  3. Wise people take refuge in the tent of the Lord, Ps 15:1, which is Christ, who John 1:14 says, came to ‘tent’ among us.
  4. Those in the Lord’s tent, i.e. those in Christ, will begin doing the good things of Ps 15.
  5. But they will always acknowledge that God has given them their goodness in Christ, Ps 16:2.
  6. This goodness which they receive, i.e. their salvation, will bring about the joy predicted in Ps 14:7.
  7. This joy will be based on the certainty of a future inheritance for those in Christ, Ps 16:6.
  8. This inheritance is certain because God did not abandon Christ to the grave, Ps 16:10, quoted by Peter and Paul in Acts, about the resurrection.
  9. Because of the resurrection, Christians, like Jesus, are welcome in the presence of God, to enjoy eternal pleasures at God’s right hand, Ps 16:11.

It seems to me then, that we get the full gospel by reading Psalm 14-16 together, and we are protected from teaching works apart from grace.  So as always: CONTEXT, CONTEXT, CONTEXT…

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