Introducing the Psalms
SERIES: LONGING FOR GOD, STUDIES IN THE PSALMS
LESSON ONE: INTRODUCING THE PSALMS
Rubel Shelly, teacher
Text for This Study: Psalm 42:1-2; 63:1
1. It will be helpful to understand why the title “Longing for God” has been chosen for this series. In addition to the two texts above (as typical of many more in the Psalter), read the comment at the bottom of this page by C.S. Lewis.
2. The Rich Young Ruler claimed that he had been carefully obedient to the Law of Moses for his entire life, yet he realized he still lacked something (cf. Matt 19:20). Paul said something very similar about his own background (cf. Phil 3:4b-11).
a. It is altogether possible for religion to be more duty-bound than relationship-centered. How might this distinction help explain these two case studies?
b. Do you sense the same shortcoming could be found in our modern situation?
3. In your study Bible, spend a few minutes looking over the superscriptions to the various psalms. (a) These were not part of the original compositions. (b) How might some of them be helpful to our study? Problematic?
4. What is Hebrew parallelism? (Your study Bible may have some helpful information in its introduction to the Psalter.) To familiarize yourself with this important feature, look at some examples of synonymous parallelism (Psa 103:3,10; Isa 1:3,10; 53:5; Amos 5:24; 8:10) and antithetical parallelism (Psa 37:21-22; Prov. 10:1-21; cf. Isa 1:21; 49:14-15; Lam 4:3).
5. Has there been a time in your spiritual life when one of the psalms* in this collection was particularly helpful to you? Which one? Why? [*When referring to the entire collection or to a specific psalm, we use a capital letter – thus “Psalms” or “Psalm 23”; when speaking of the various poetic units and their parallels, we use a lower-case letter – “we read these psalms with great humility and awe at their sheer beauty.”]
These poets knew far less reason than we for loving God. They did not know that He offered them eternal joy; still less that He would die to win it for them. Yet they express a longing for Him, for His mere presence, which comes only to the best Christians or to Christians in their best moments. They long to live all their days in the Temple so that they may constantly see ‘the fair beauty of the Lord’ (27:4). Their longing to go up to Jerusalem and ‘appear before the presence of God’ is like a physical thirst (42). From Jerusalem His presence flashes out ‘in perfect beauty’ (50:2). Lacking that encounter with Him, their souls are parched like a waterless countryside (63:2). They crave to be ‘satisfied with the pleasures’ of His house (65:4). Only there can they be at ease, like a bird in the nest (84:3). One day of those ‘pleasures’ is better than a lifetime spent elsewhere (84:10).
– C.S. Lewis, Reflections on the Psalms (New York: HarperCollins, 1958), pp.58-59.