The picture above is Rembrandt’s picture of David playing for Saul.
I am doing only selections from the Psalms rather than the entire book. Remember that what I’m doing is a reading list from a college (St. John’s in Annapolis), not the entire Bible, and that I’m putting up the comments that I might make if I were in a class in a secular college, not necessarily the comments that I would make if I were in a group of like minded believers.
1. The happiness of the man who follows the law (Torah). He is to murmur his (Yahweh’s) law day and night. Sinners are condemned, and “will not stand firm when Judgment comes.” This seems to envision a final or general judgment, though it is possible that I’m reading it through Christian eyes. It could refer to what we call the particular, i.e., individual judgment. A hymn of praise to Yahweh. Verses 1-4 concentrate on Yahweh, and his magnificence. Verses 5-9 are the splendor of man. He is “little less than a god,” and is lord over all of Yahweh’s work (5-8). The psalm closes with a verse of praise to Yahweh (9).
The godless man. “The fool says in his heat, ‘There is no God.’” Note that the fools says this in his heart; it is not necessarily the words on his lips. These men are violent and corrupt. God looks down to see if any are seeking Him, but everyone has turned aside. The evil men are eating Yahweh’s people, but Yahweh takes the side of the virtuous. “When Yahweh brings his people home, what joy for Jacob, what happiness for Israel!”
If you accept Davidic authorship for the psalms, this could refer to David’s exile under Saul. It seems to me, however, to indicate composition during the exile. The godless men could be the Babylonians, and it could refer to the time when the exile ends.
On the more personal side of theological applicability, which universalizes it, it could be saying that godless men do evil. On a personal level, we can act like the godless by doing evil within the context of our situation. In a political context, the evil man oppresses people, and thus proves his godlessness.
I once got into a discussion on AOL, and some jerk who went by the handle of Citizen13 said that since I liked Catholics so much, I must like Hitler, who was raised Catholic. Since this was a non-sequitur I objected that Hitler was an atheist. This in turn prompted a discussion of Hitler’s religious beliefs. In the context of psalm 14 this discussion was pointless. Hitler’s actions proved his godlessness, regardless of what he said. Just so do the actions of Stalin, Mao, Saddam, Castro, Che, and the whole sorry mass of modern dictators prove their godlessness by their actions.
The heavens declare the glory of God. God can be seen in the natural word. To understand nature is to understand a part of the mind of God. At 7 the psalm apparently breaks into a new verse form that my translation interprets as 4 line stanzas. These verse are about the law (Torah) of Yahweh, and consist of praise for the law. At 11 we learn that Yahweh’s servant is formed by the law. But the singer wishes to be cleansed from hidden faults, and protected from pride. Protection from pride will yield freedom from grave sin. The psalm concludes by asking that the words of the singer’s mouth always find favor, as well as the whispering of his heart. Yahweh is referred to as his rock, his redeemer.
I think in the whispering of the heart we can see an anticipation of Romans 8, in which Paul speaks of the spirit making our plea for us (Romans 8:26).
Jesus calls out the first line of this on the cross. It’s usually thought that at the moment he was in despair, but the psalm is not one of despair. By calling out at this moment, in agony, and unable to breathe, is He referring not just to the first line, but to the whole psalm?
1-5 are a proclamation of despair, and at the same time a recognition the Holy One makes his home in the praises of Israel, and the fathers of Israel put their trust in Him, and never trusted in vain.
6-8 are a recognition of his pained condition, and of his humiliation before the crowd. Verse 8 seems to anticipate the crowd’s reaction when Jesus uttered the the first verse.
9-11 refer to Yahweh having entrusted the singer to his mother. I think this has to betaken as personal and universal, not just as applying to the singer or to Jesus.
14-15 is a further outpouring of despair.
16-18 is a description of his condition, and of being surrounded by the crowd. The casting of lots for his garments is mentioned.
19-21 is a plea to be saved from the doom that threatens.
22-23 Says that he will proclaim Yahweh’s name to his brothers, and praise him in full assembly. He then urges the race of Jacob, and the race of Israel to praise him.
24 asserts that God “has not despised or disdained the poor man in his poverty, has not hidden his face from him, but has answered him when he called.” The psalm has moved away from the despair of the first line to a renewed affirmation.
25-26 asserts that Yahweh is the theme of his praise in the “Great Assembly,” and affirms that “those who seek Yahweh will praise him.
27-31 is the conclusion of the psalm. The earth will remember; Yahweh reigns. the singer’s soul will live for him, his children will praise Yahweh. Men will proclaim him to generations to come, and his righteousness to unborn people. The transition from despair to hope is complete. By crying out the words of the psalm does Jesus also cry out the movement from despair to hope? Here the lightning of the KJV is replaced by lightning bugs. Instead of “I shall not want,” we get “I lack nothing.” Instead of “I walk through the valley of death,” we get “I pass through a gloomy valley.” I can’t picture Pat O’Brien reading this to Jimmy Cagney as they walk to the chair.
This is apsalm of longing for God. “As a doe longs for running streams,” expresses the longing for God. In John this will be expressed in the story of the Samaritan woman when she expresses a longing for the living water that Jesus has. The longing for God is also expressed as a longing for the homeland of Jordan and of Hermon. At 7 we have the verse that “Deep is calling to deep.” The deep within God is calling to that which is deep in us. The spirit of God calls to our spirit. He concludes the psalm by saying that he will put his hope in God.
God is on the side of Israel. This psalm expresses the confidence that God will always be on the side of Israel. It ends with an expression of God’s dominion over the earth.
A penitential psalm. It is set in the context of David’s sin with Bathsheba. David proclaims his repentance. He asks God wash him clean of his guilt, and to purify him from sin (2). He confesses his awareness of his sin, and says that he was born guilty, and was a sinner from the moment of conception (3-6). Here is a text for the doctrine of original sin. He asks for a clean heart, and to be saved from death. At 16 he says that sacrifice gives God no pleasure. This echoes Nathan’s proclamation to David in II Samuel. He asks for the walls of Jerusalem to be rebuilt. This may be a later addition, or the whole psalm may be post-exilic.
Expresses the idea of the eternity of God, and then says that God can turn man back into dust. At 9-10 the psalmist laments the shortness of our lives, and he goes on to ask Yahweh to help us realize the brevity of our lives, and considering this to gain wisdom. At 14 he asks that we wake in the morning filled with the love of Yahweh, and that we sing and be as happy as we were sad in the past. He concludes in 16 and 17 by asking that God express his power so that their children can see His glory, and that all that we do succeed.
Is one of the psalms of ascent that was sung by pilgrims in Jerusalem. This one expresses the idea that Yahweh is the guardian of Israel.
Is another psalm of ascent. It expresses rejoicing at the pilgrimage to Jerusalem, and asks that we pray for the peace of Jerusalem.
Yet another psalm of ascent. This appears to be a psalm of returning exile. The return to Israel seems like a dream, and is a source of marvel for the pagans. Those who return are those who went away carrying seed, and now they have returned carrying sheaves.
This is the one known as De profundis. Out of the depths of despair the soul calls to God. We cannot survive without God’s forgiveness, but He does forgive us, and so we revere Him. The soul waits for Yahweh, and relies on Him more than the watchman relies on the coming of dawn. Yahweh is the source of mercy and redemption. He redeems Israel from all of its sins.
This psalm expresses complete and utter trust in God. The psalmist lays claims to no lofty ambitions, and expresses his unconcern with great affairs. He is content to keep his soul tranquil and quiet (2). The psalm ends with an admonition to Israel to trust in Yahweh. Here we have what I think is a scriptural basis for the little way of St. Therese of Lisieux.
Is a ballad of the exiles that dates from the time of the Babylonian exile. The psalm opens by placing the psalmist in Babylon, and weeping at remembrance of Zion. The exiles have left their harps on the poplars in Zion. This probably indicates not just the abandonment of the harps, but also the abandonment of all the arts. The exiles cannot express themselves in a pagan country. If the exile forgets Jeruslaem, he asks that his right hand wither. The exile asks that Yahweh remember what the sons of Edom did when Jerusalem was destroyed. He then asks a blessing on the man who treat Babylon as Israel has been treated, and who will dash Babylon’s babies against the rock.
This psalm expresses the omniscience of God. At 13 the psalmist addresses Yahweh, and says that He created the psalmist’s inmost self, and put him together in his mother’s womb. (I think I’ve seen this used as a proof text for the evil of abortion, and for the human presence in the womb.) The psalmist thanks Yahweh “for the wonder of myself, for the wonder of your works” (14). He continues praising God’s omniscience. At 19 he asks God to kill the wicked. At 23 he asks God to examine him and to make sure he does not follow the “pernicious ways” of the evil men. He concludes by asking for God to guide him in the everlasting way.
This is a hymn of praise to Yahweh. All of the material universe is urged to praise him. This is very similar to the song of the children in the fiery furnace (Daniel 3:52-90. This is in the Apocrypha in non-Catholic editions.)
Next up II Chronicles 36.