The psalms repeat themselves. Psalms 118 and 136 begin with the same couplet, word-for-word: “Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good, for His lovingkindness is everlasting” (118:1, 136:1). I could cite more psalms that feature the same line throughout themselves like a chorus or that borrow lines from other psalms like remixes, but I’d be repeating myself. And while Psalm 136 repeats its hook “For His lovingkindness is everlasting” in every single verse, the point of the psalm isn’t repetition. It’s gratitude.
I’ve been trying to write this entry today, and the inertia is palpable. Some psalms it’s easy to sing along with. This one, though? I hit the midpoint and just about got whiplash. Psalm 149 is a praise song, it’s as much a product of ancient Jewish culture as psalms like 147 and 132, and it’s a song about singing, and I would characterize it as a psalm of new orientation—but man, if it doesn’t induce disorientation in me. It may be a psalm of praise, but it’s also a psalm of war.
King David’s back today with another psalm of thanksgiving. Sometimes it’s hard to tell whether you’re looking at a psalm of simple orientation or new orientation, and for me, this is one of those psalms.
King David led a very different life from mine. He shepherded sheep, killed a nine-foot-tall warrior using just a sling, spent years on the run from the current King of Israel, ascended the throne himself when King Saul died, faced a rebellion by his son Absalom, and somehow in the midst of all that found time to compose a bunch of songs. Me? Well, my biggest worry right now is getting this blog post done. In Psalm 124, David wrote about facing hostile adversaries, but I don’t have any hostile adversaries, so I have to write about David writing about facing hostile adversaries.
As the saying goes, stop me if you’ve heard this one. It’s “I Lift My Eyes Up,” originally written by Brian Doerksen, whose music was a staple of contemporary worship services from the mid-90s to the early 2000s–including those of my high school youth group. I couldn’t find a streamable official recording, so this one’s a live cover from UK-based Vineyard Music. Doerksen drew inspiration from Psalm 121 for “I Lift My Eyes Up;” it recapitulates the first two verses in particular almost word-for-word. But while Doerksen’s song is as much a prayer for aid as an acknowledgement of God’s power to save, Psalm 121 is pure confidence in God’s protection.
In junior high, my dad introduced me to Archimedes’ spiral, or the “goat on a rope.” If you take a compass and draw a line where the distance of your pencil from the center point equals the angle between your compass and the x-axis, you get this line. Or to put it in mathematical terms, it’s the polar coordinate equation r = θ. My dad told me that life is like Archimedes’ spiral: as you live and grow, you keep coming back to similar points in your life, but further out on the spiral. Say you’ve read a psalm before, and then you read it again. The second time around, you’re reading it on a more distant loop on the spiral. It’s a new experience–but it’s similar to the old one.
It is with tongue in cheek that I encourage you to extoll my virtues in the caption for today’s photo. After all, this psalm encourages us to praise God, not man, and moreover, it is only five verses long. One square of chocolate is all I need!
It’s your birthday. You come home to your dark house, and just as you’d expect, as soon as you turn on the lights, everyone jumps out and yells, “Surprise!” Except it’s not your friends. It’s strangers, and they strip you naked and beat you with baseball bats. They leave, and from your new vantage point on the floor, you suddenly notice: there actually is a birthday cake on the counter. That’s Psalm 89.
This is a weird one. It starts with a call to worship, an invitation to sing to God and play various instruments for him. You think it’s a psalm of orientation, but then in verse six, the psalmist (Asaph again) starts relaying God’s words, and in essence it’s God speaking for the next eleven verses until the end of the psalm. And God is sad! ““Oh that My people would listen to Me, that Israel would walk in My ways!” (13), he laments. He implies that his people’s troubles with their adversaries come from their refusal to accept his blessing. “Open your mouth wide and I will fill it” (10), he commands.
Going by Brueggemann’s classification scheme, we’ve got a psalm of disorientation on our hands today. The author isn’t identified, but it certainly sounds like David: he’s afflicted and insulted by enemies, threatened by ruthless men, crying out to God for deliverance. It’s a funny thing about disorientation, though. It comes in degrees.