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Psalm 89: Learning to Effectively Study the Old Testament Psalms , part 2 of 4, highlights different aspects of effectively studying the Psalms with a special focus on Psalm 89.
The rich value the of Old Testament is partly seen in the Psalms. Each book of the Bible has its own emphasis. God's Word is able to enter our inner or spiritual life through the psalms in a unique way. Probably all of us have been strangely warmed by some psalm. Each psalm has its own special setting or mood (sometimes called genre meaning 'form' or 'style').
We might think of the difference between two different scenarios:
1) the scenery when quietly sitting by stream and
2) riding a hot full city bus.
Each psalm that we hop onto will usher us into a different experience with God. One psalm might primarily comfort us such as Psalm 23 which highlights the tender way God deals with His children. We like to hear promises! Not all Psalms are this way, however. We have those that show us the pain of sinful choices as well as the inspirational which call us to join the Psalmist in praising God.
If we are going to profit as we should from the reading of the psalms, then we need to observe the general purposes God works through these passages. Let me offer some examples of how the mood of a passage often influences the purpose for which God uses it.
God often uses His Word through these practical methods to help us grow in our lives. Do not consider a psalm familiar or something you have learned. If I am reading a repeat of a certain kind of psalm, for example, each day I let the Lord affirm the lessons on my heart so that it becomes my prayer for the day. In this way God's truth deepen their impact in my life.
When we come to the Psalms, we should come anticipating God speaking to us in some special way. We should, either by writing or analyzing our thoughts, pay attention to what God is trying to say. Often it runs parallel to what we are reading such as suggested in the examples above. But sometimes there are exceptions to this.
God, for instance, might use a particular word, symbolism or phrase which is not particularly going along with the major theme of the Psalm. The mood or genre of the Psalm guides us but does not dominate how the Holy Spirit might work in our lives.
Reading the Psalms should be like getting in a boat by a river and pushing off. We are guided along. If we do it often enough, we will come to be able with some accuracy predict which way we will go, but the experience along the way will always differ.
I am continually amazed at how God can use a passage that I have read a hundred times in special and unique ways appropriate to my daily life. This sounds like I am saying that the Psalms, or any part of the Old Testament, was written for me. God has written the scriptures for all of us, but the Holy Spirit through them as 2 Timothy 3:15-16 uses the scriptures to instruct us in one or more ways.
We come to the scriptures as on a journey, somewhat knowing where we are going but always alert to special experiences He provides along the way. If we hurriedly read the scripture, we will miss the opportunity to profit from them. If we are so worried that we cannot concentrate on God's message, the Word of God will be stolen from our minds.
Before opening up to the scriptures, think about how desirous you are of God speaking to you. If you do not sense a need for God and His Word, confess the hardness of your heart. Admit you greatly need Him (which is true). Quietly ask Him to forgive your hardened heart and ask Him to teach you what you need for that day.
The Psalms were almost all written during what we call the historical books of the Old Testament. The Law (first five books) are the basis of all the other books. They were written by Moses.
The Psalms generally were written at the middle of the OT historical books such as during David's life who wrote many of them. It is important to read these books to gain a background to the Psalms. The prophetical books are generally helpful but are not as necessary as the first five books and David's life.
Not a few Psalms are a bit different in that they are prophetic in nature. In most cases these Psalms describe some upcoming situation that the Messiah would go through whether it be His suffering, betrayal, life, or kingship, etc.
In these cases King David is usually speaking, but he is merely a type for the coming King Jesus. These are called Messianic Psalms but we should remember that often a Psalm might only have a few verses out of the whole that depict some future aspect of Christ.
In many cases the introduction given to the Psalm will provide a hint at the background of the Psalm. In the Hebrew scriptures, this 'heading' is actually verse 1 and is not added on by those who place other footnotes in the Bible. In some cases the heading is very helpful in setting the scene for us.
As this article continues, we will use the study of Psalm 89 to help us further understand what has been written above but more importantly to discover the nuggets that the Lord has given to us from our reading.
As we look closely at Psalm 89, we will use both a 'short' and 'long' form of study. This is necessary because of the length of Psalm 89, but it will help us prepare for long Psalms which can be a challenge in appropriately understanding.
By 'short' I mean that we only have a short time for devotional reading, perhaps fifteen minutes. If we us all our minutes just to read the psalm (or several psalms if we are for example reading five psalms a day by habit), then we will not have any time put aside to think about what God is particularly speaking to us. In this case we should pay special attention to the 'short' advice.
At other times we have a longer time. Or perhaps we have spent 3 days reading one longer psalm. In this case we should pay attention to the special advice to the 'long' section.
Both short and long points of advice are important to enabling one to effectively read and apply the Book of Psalms. The more we master these forms of reflective study, then the more profitable our regular study in the Psalms will become.
The 'short' and 'long' sections of advice utilize this approach but in a more straightforward and helpful method.