NextLevel Online: More Than Prayers: Seeing Jesus in the Psalms
by Matt Stafford
An introduction to the Psalms and Hebrew Poetry (Psalm 1)
The Book of Psalms contains the collected prayers and songs of the Jewish people written from the time of Moses to the return from their exile in Babylon. These songs and prayers reflect universal human experiences, they teach us how to pray by their example, and they ultimately point us to the answer to those prayers in Jesus Christ.
Tools for Interpreting the Psalms (Psalm 2)
The royal psalms demonstrate Israel’s belief that God was reigning through his anointed king. This messiah was seen as a “son of God'', displaying the glory of God and doing the work of God in securing justice, leading the people and extending God’s rule to the nations. Jesus came preaching “the good news of the kingdom”, and the early church understood Jesus to be the fulfillment of these psalms.
Psalms of Creation (Psalm 8)
There are four major psalms of creation (8,19, 29, and 104). Psalm 19 focuses on the sky, Psalm 29 on the waters, and Psalm 104 on the earth. Psalm 8 however, focuses on mankind and our place in the cosmos. It turns out that we are at the center of it all. The psalmist is incredulous that the LORD would consider human beings at all given the beauty and scale of the universe. And yet He has, making him worthy of our worship.
The Torah Psalms (Psalm 19)
The Hebrew word Torah means “instruction” or “revelation”, and a Torah psalm is a psalm focused on the “law of the LORD”. Psalms 1, 19, and 119 are all Torah psalms, revealing to us that God speaks to all of humanity, compelling us to listen, to know him, and enter into a relationship with Him. Psalm 19 is also a psalm of creation, highlighting the glory of God on display in the skies.
Psalms of Lament (Psalm 22)
Laments are prayers that express anger, frustration, grief and disappointment with God. They are some of the most common prayers in the Book of Psalms. Of the laments, Psalm 22 is one of the most intense, expressing the psalmist’s feelings of abandonment by God during one of the most trying times of his life. The psalm takes on greater significance because it was prayed by Jesus from the cross.
Psalms of Trust (Psalm 46)
What you believe about God may be the most important factor in how you handle hard times. Psalm 46 is a beloved psalm of trust in which the community of God expresses their confidence in the character of God to sustain them in the midst of crisis. These powerful lyrics give us a pattern for praying today when it feels like our world has been turned upside down.
The Penitential Psalms (Psalm 51)
A penitential psalm is one in which we confess sin, seek forgiveness, and promise repentance. Traditionally Psalms 6, 32, 38, 51, 102, 130, and 143 bear this designation. In Psalm 51, David asks for mercy and promises repentance, providing us with a model for approaching God when we sin.
Psalms of Wisdom (Psalm 73)
Many psalms offer practical wisdom for living a good life, while others teach by recounting Israel’s history. Psalm 73 addresses the universal question of God’s goodness and power in light of human suffering, asking, “if God is good and all-powerful, why do bad things happen to good people?” The psalm addresses the flip side of that question, asking, “why do good things happen to bad people?”
Psalms of Praise (Psalm 103)
The Hebrew name for the Book of Psalms is Sepher Tehillim, Book of Praises. The psalms of Book 4 (90-106) are largely songs of praise, offering a resounding answer to the questions of faith that the psalmist raises in Book 3. As a song of praise, Psalm 103 stands out as one of the greatest lyric proclamations of the boundless love and compassion of God ever recorded in human language.
All of scripture ultimately directs us toward Jesus, and that includes the Psalms. While there is a sense in which every psalm reveals something about Jesus (it’s what I have called the “Jesus lens”), there are five psalms that are particularly important because of the way they are used in the New Testament to clarify the identity and mission of Jesus.
Psalms of Cursing
When it comes to reading and interpreting the Psalms, some of the most problematic verses are those in which the psalmist prays that God would curse his enemies. In fact, some cite these as evidence that the Bible is not a holy book, given that it contains such violent language. The technical term for these curses is imprecation, although “psalms of anger” or “psalms of wrath” may be more descriptive. In this lesson, we’ll gain some perspective on these psalms and learn to pray them in light of the cross.
Psalms of Devotion (Psalm 139)
Contemplating the infinite knowledge, power and goodness of a Being that knows and loves us fully should move us to a posture of worship and devotion. Psalm 139 is a remarkable meditation on the nature of God and his relationship with us that concludes with a vow and a prayer.