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SDA Sabbath School Lesson 1-1st Quarter 2024--How to Read the Psalms

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Richard Myers:
1st  Quarter  Lesson 1             Dec 30 - Jan 05

The Psalms: Where God and People Meet Heart to Heart

The Psalms are prayers and hymns of the Bible par excellence. Uttered in praise, joy, sorrow, and despair; spoken or sung in private and in public by laypeople, kings, poets, and priests; coming from both the righteous and repentant sinners, the Psalms have served as the prayer book and the hymnbook to generations of believers.

The book of Psalms owes its distinct role to the fact that while most of the Bible speaks to us, the Psalms speak for us and with us. The Psalms are a source of blessing, hope, and revival, a guide for both self-reflection and reflection on God’s greatness, liberating when one cries out of the depths, and captivating for a renewed surrender to God. It is thus not surprising that many people find the Psalms resonating with their emotions and experiences and adopt them as their own prayers. Luther poignantly speaks of the Psalms: “Where can one find nobler words to express joy than in the Psalms of praise or gratitude? In them you can see into the hearts of all the saints as if you were looking at a lovely pleasure-garden, or were gazing into heaven. . . . Or where can one find more profound, more penitent, more sorrowful words in which to express grief than in the Psalms of lamentation? In these, you see into the hearts of all the saints as if you were looking at death or gazing into hell, so dark and obscure is the scene rendered by the changing shadows of the wrath of God. . . . It is therefore easy to understand why the book of Psalms is the favourite book of all the saints. For every man on every occasion can find in it Psalms which fit his needs, which he feels to be as appropriate as if they had been set there just for his sake. In no other book can he find words to equal them, nor better words.”—Martin Luther, Martin Luther: Selections From His Writings, ed. John Dillenberger (New York: Anchor Books, 1962), pp. 39, 40.

To experience the life-transforming power of the Psalms, we are called to sing and pray them as did the generations of believers who have used the Psalms to pour out their praises, petitions, confessions, laments, and thanksgiving to the sovereign God of grace and justice.

Do we need to study the Psalms, then? Like the rest of the Scriptures, the Psalms were written in their distinctive historical, theological, and literary contexts. The task of the study of the Psalms is to bring the particular world of the Psalms closer to the modern audience. We must note that while the Psalms are prayers of God’s people and even prayers that Jesus prayed as the incarnated Lord, the Psalms are also prayers about Jesus. They are God’s revelation to humanity. Another task of the study of the Psalms is, thus, to learn from the Psalms about all that God did, does, and will do for the world in and through Jesus Christ.

Although the Psalms are a collection of 150 poems, the collection may not be as random as it appears. The Psalms bear witness to a spiritual journey that is common to many of God’s children. The journey begins with a faith that is firmly established and secured by God’s sovereign rule and where good gets rewarded and evil punished. As we progress through our study, we will see what happens when the well-ordered world of faith is challenged and threatened by evil. Does God still reign? How can believers sing the Lord’s song in a strange land?

Our desire and prayer are that the Psalms strengthen us on our life journey, and through them we get to meet God daily, heart to heart, until the day when we see Jesus Christ face to face.

Dragoslava Santrac, PhD in Old Testament, is managing editor of the Encyclopedia of Seventh-day Adventists at the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists world headquarters. She has authored the volume on Psalms 76:1-12 ; Psalms 77:1-20 ; Psalms 78:1-72 ; Psalms 79:1-13 ; Psalms 80:1-19 ; Psalms 81:1-16 ; Psalms 82:1-8 ; Psalms 83:1-18 ; Psalms 84:1-12 ; Psalms 85:1-13 ; Psalms 86:1-17 ; Psalms 87:1-7 ; Psalms 88:1-18 ; Psalms 89:1-52 ; Psalms 90:1-17 ; Psalms 91:1-16 ; Psalms 92:1-15 ; Psalms 93:1-5 ; Psalms 94:1-23 ; Psalms 95:1-11 ; Psalms 96:1-13 ; Psalms 97:1-12 ; Psalms 98:1-9 ; Psalms 99:1-9 ; Psalms 100:1-5 ; Psalms 101:1-8 ; Psalms 102:1-28 ; Psalms 103:1-22 ; Psalms 104:1-35 ; Psalms 105:1-45 ; Psalms 106:1-48 ; Psalms 107:1-43 ; Psalms 108:1-13 ; Psalms 109:1-31 ; Psalms 110:1-7 ; Psalms 111:1-10 ; Psalms 112:1-10 ; Psalms 113:1-9 ; Psalms 114:1-8 ; Psalms 115:1-18 ; Psalms 116:1-19 ; Psalms 117:1-2 ; Psalms 118:1-29 ; Psalms 119:1-176 ; Psalms 120:1-7 ; Psalms 121:1-8 ; Psalms 122:1-9 ; Psalms 123:1-4 ; Psalms 124:1-8 ; Psalms 125:1-5 ; Psalms 126:1-6 ; Psalms 127:1-5 ; Psalms 128:1-6 ; Psalms 129:1-8 ; Psalms 130:1-8 ; Psalms 131:1-3 ; Psalms 132:1-18 ; Psalms 133:1-3 ; Psalms 134:1-3 ; Psalms 135:1-21 ; Psalms 136:1-26 ; Psalms 137:1-9 ; Psalms 138:1-8 ; Psalms 139:1-24 ; Psalms 140:1-13 ; Psalms 141:1-10 ; Psalms 142:1-7 ; Psalms 143:1-12 ; Psalms 144:1-15 ; Psalms 145:1-21 ; Psalms 146:1-10 ; Psalms 147:1-20 ; Psalms 148:1-14 ; Psalms 149:1-9 ; Psalms 150:1-6 for the Seventh-day Adventist International Bible Commentary.

Richard Myers:
1st  Quarter  Lesson 1             Dec 30 - Jan 05

How to Read the Psalms

Commentary in Navy                  Inspiration in Maroon

Sabbath Afternoon

Read for This Week’s Study

1 Chronicles 16:7 ; Nehemiah 12:8 ; Psalms 25:1-5 ; Psalms 33:1-3 ; Romans 8:26-27 ; Psalms 82:8 ; Psalms 121:7 .

    Memory Text:
     And he said unto them, These are the words which I spake unto you, while I was yet with you, that all things must be fulfilled, which were written in the law of Moses, and in the prophets, and in the psalms, concerning me. Then opened he their understanding, that they might understand the scriptures.   Luke 24:44-45

The Psalms have been a prayer book and hymnbook for both Jews and Christians through the ages. And though the Psalms are predominantly the psalmists’ own words addressed to God, the Psalms did not originate with mortals but with God, who inspired their thoughts.

Indeed, the Lord inspired them to write what they did, which is why, as in all of Scripture (2 Peter 1:21 ), God in the Psalms speaks to us through His servants and by His Spirit. Jesus, the apostles, and the writers of the New Testament cited the Psalms and referred to them as Scripture (Mark 12:10 ; John 10:34-35 ; John 13:18 ). They are as surely the Word of God as are the books of Genesis and Romans.

The Psalms have been written in Hebrew poetry by different authors from ancient Israel, and so, the Psalms reflect their particular world, however universal their messages. Accepting the Psalms as God’s Word and paying close attention to the Psalms’ poetic features, as well as their historical, theological, and liturgical contexts, is fundamental for understanding their messages, which reach across thousands of years to our time today.

Many of us will not understand much of the "poetic features, as well as their historical, theological, and liturgical contexts," but we will be blessed as we study the Psalms as we do the rest of Scripture. Not reading in old testament Hebrew, we can still understand fundamental truths by the Holy Spirit what it is that God wants us to learn daily even from the Psalms. Do not be discouraged that you do not understand Greek and Hebrew. The Holy Spirit will indeed teach you if you will walk in the light so graciously given to us.

*Study this week’s lesson to prepare for Sabbath, January 6.

Richard Myers:
Sunday December 31
The Psalms in Ancient Israel’s Worship

Read 1 Chronicles 16:7 ; Nehemiah 12:8 ; Psalms 18:1 ; Psalms 30:1 ; Psalms 92:1 ; Psalms 95:2 ; Psalms 105:2 ; Colossians 3:16 ; James 5:13 . What were the occasions that prompted the writing of some psalms? When did God’s people use the Psalms?

The Psalms were composed for use in private and in communal worship. They were sung as hymns in temple worship, as suggested by the musical annotations that mention instruments (Psalms 61:1 ), tunes (Psalms 9:1 ), and music leaders (Psalms 8:1 ).

In the Hebrew Bible, the title of the book of Psalms, tehilim, “praises,” reflects its main purpose—that is, the praise of God. The English title Book of Psalms is derived from the Greek psalmoi, found in the Septuagint, an early (second and third century B.C.) Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible.

The Psalms were an indispensable part of Israel’s worship. For example, they were used in temple dedications, religious feasts, and processions, as well as during the setting down of the ark of the covenant in Jerusalem.

“The Songs of Ascents” (Psalms 120:1-7 −134), also known as the pilgrimage songs, were traditionally sung during the pilgrimage to Jerusalem at the three major annual festivals (Exodus 23:14-17 ). The “Egyptian Hallel” (Psalms 113:1-9 −118) and the “Great Hallel” (Psalms 136:1-26 ) were sung at the three major annual festivals, including the festivals of the New Moon and the dedication of the temple. The Egyptian Hallel received a significant place in the Passover ceremony. Psalms 113:1-9 and 114 were sung at the beginning of the Passover meal and Psalms 115:1-18 −118 at the end (Matthew 26:30 ). The “Daily Hallel” (Psalms 145:1-21 −150) was incorporated into the daily prayers in the synagogue morning services.

The Psalms did not only accompany the people’s worship, but they also instructed them on how they should worship God in the sanctuary. Jesus prayed with the words of Psalms 22:1-31 ; Matthew 27:46 ). The Psalms found a significant place in the life of the early church, as well (Colossians 3:16 ; Ephesians 5:19 ).

Though we, of course, do not worship God in an earthly sanctuary like the temple, how can we use the Psalms in our own worship, whether in a private or in a corporate setting?

The very same way we use the rest of Scripture, as the Word of God. It is a revelation of God's thoughts toward us, especially a revelation of His character and grace of unmerited love for sinners.

Richard Myers:
Monday  January 1
Meet the Psalmists

King David, whose name appears in the titles of most psalms, was active in organizing the liturgy of Israel’s worship. He is called “the sweet psalmist of Israel” (2 Samuel 23:1 ). The New Testament attests to Davidic authorship of various psalms (Matthew 22:43-45 ; Acts 2:25-29 ,34-35 ; Acts 4:25 ; Romans 4:6-8 ). Numerous psalms were composed by the temple musicians who were also Levites: for example, Psalms 50:1-23 ; Psalms 73:1-28 −83 by Asaph; Psalms 42:1-11 ; Psalms 44:1-26 ; Psalms 49:1-20 ; Psalms 84:1-12 ; Psalms 85:1-13 ; Psalms 87:1-7 −88 by the sons of Korah; Psalms 88:1-18 also by Heman the Ezrahite; and Psalms 89:1-52 by Ethan the Ezrahite. Beyond them, Solomon (Psalms 72:1-20 ; Psalms 127:1-5 ) and Moses (Psalms 90:1-17 ) authored some psalms.

Read Psalms 25:1-5 ; Psalms 42:1 ; Psalms 75:1 ; Psalms 77:1 ; Psalms 84:1-2 ; Psalms 88:1-3 ; Psalms 89:1 . What do these psalms reveal about the experiences their authors were going through?

The Holy Spirit inspired the psalmists and used their talents in service to God and to their community of faith. The psalmists were people of genuine devotion and profound faith and yet prone to discouragements and temptations, as are the rest of us. Though written a long time ago, the Psalms surely reflect some of what we experience today.

“Let my prayer come before thee: incline thine ear unto my cry; For my soul is full of troubles: and my life draweth nigh unto the grave.” Psalms 88:2-3 . This is a cry of the twenty-first-century soul as much as it was of someone 3,000 years ago.

Some psalms mention hardships; some focus on joys. The psalmists cried out to God to save them and experienced His undeserved favor. They glorified God for His faithfulness and love, and they pledged their untiring devotion to Him. The Psalms are, thus, testimonies of divine Redemption and signs of God’s grace and hope. The Psalms convey a divine promise to all who embrace, by faith, God’s gifts of forgiveness and of a new life. Yet, at the same time, they do not try to cover up, hide, or downplay the hardships and suffering prevalent in a fallen world.

How can we draw hope and comfort knowing that even faithful people, such as the psalmists, struggled with some of the same things that we do?

As with all of the Scripture, we draw hope from knowing the character of our God. In the psalms we get to hear the prayers of true love for God and their temptations and sins that reveal the sinfulness of humanity and the power of God's grace. Testimonies are found in the Psalms even as in the rest of the Bible. Is it not encouraging to hear of others trials and tribulation and the response of God to their prayers? Indeed it is. Let us share the same so that others can be comforted even as God has comforted us.

Richard Myers:
Tuesday  January 2
A Song for Every Season

Read Psalms 3:1-8 ; Psalms 33:1-3 ; Psalms 109:6-15 . What different facets of human experience do these psalms convey?

The Psalms make the believing community aware of the full range of human experience, and they demonstrate that believers can worship God in every season in life. In them we see the following:

(1) Hymns that magnify God for His majesty and power in creation, His kingly rule, judgment, and faithfulness. (2) Thanksgiving psalms that express profound gratitude for God’s abundant blessings. (3) Laments that are heartfelt cries to God for deliverance from trouble. (4) Wisdom psalms that provide practical guidelines for righteous living. (5) Royal psalms that point to Christ, who is the sovereign King and Deliverer of God’s people. (6) Historical psalms that recall Israel’s past and highlight God’s faithfulness and Israel’s unfaithfulness to teach the coming generations not to repeat the mistakes of their ancestors but to trust God and remain faithful to His covenant.

The poetry of the Psalms demonstrates distinctive power to capture the attention of readers. Though some of these poetic devices are lost in translation, we can still, in our native language, appreciate many of them.

1. Parallelism involves the combining of symmetrically constructed words, phrases, or thoughts. Parallelism helps in understanding the meaning of corresponding parts. For instance: “Bless the Lord, O my soul; and all that is within me, bless His holy name!” (Psalms 103:1 ). In this parallelism, “my soul” is “all that is within me,” namely one’s whole being.

2. Imagery uses figurative language to strongly appeal to readers’ physical senses. For example, God’s refuge is depicted as “the shadow of [His] wings” (Psalms 17:8 ).

3. Merism expresses totality by a pair of contrasting parts. “I have cried day and night before thee” denotes crying without ceasing (Psalms 88:1 , emphasis supplied).

4. Wordplays employ the sound of words to make a pun and highlight a spiritual message. In Psalms 96:4-5 the Hebrew words ’elohim, “gods,” and ’elilim, “idols,” create a wordplay to convey the message that the gods of the nations only appear to be ’elohim, “gods,” but are merely ’elilim, “idols.”

Finally, the word “selah” denotes a brief interlude, either for a call to pause and reflect on the message of a particular section of the psalm or a change of musical accompaniment (Psalms 61:4 ).



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