Lessons from the Psalm Inscriptions: Titles of Description

A Song A Psalm

Lessons from the Psalm Inscriptions
In Leading God’s People in Prayer and Praise

Titles of Description

The second type of psalm inscription is a title of description. It indicates the musical or poetic genre of the psalm. Although we use the word “psalm’ to refer to all 150 songs in the Psalter, there are actually more than just psalms in the book of Psalms. The inscriptions suggest that there are at least eight types of musical composition represented. The first four are fairly clear in their meaning: psalm, song, prayer and praise. The last four are less certain: testimony, michtam, maschil and shiggaion.

The use of these terms in the inscriptions indicates that some overlap may exist in their meanings. While 82 psalms employ only one descriptive term, 15 use two in combination, and one, the double inscription in Psalm 88, uses three. Fifty-two psalms have no descriptive title.

Psalm

The most frequent title of description is psalm (mizmor). It appears in the heading of 57 psalms. It is the only descriptive term in 43 headings. [1] In 12 psalms it occurs in combination with song (shir). [2] In the double inscription of Psalm 88 it is used with both shir and maschil. In Psalm 80 it is used with testimony (‘eduth).

Mizmor is a noun meaning psalm or accompanied song. [3] The noun is a derivation of the verb zamar. Zamar has two meanings in the Old Testament. In the context of agriculture it means to prune (pluck) a vine; in the context of music, the verb means to play (pluck) a musical instrument, or sing to the accompaniment of a plucked (stringed) instrument. [4] The verb (associated with music) occurs 45 times in the Old Testament, all in the Pi’el (intensive stem) and all in the context of praise. All but four occurrences are in the Psalms. Twenty-two occurrences of zamar are in psalms that include the inscription mizmor. The Theological Word Book of the Old Testament (TWOT) and BDB Hebrew Lexicon suggest broader meanings for zamar: to make music, [5] or to make music in praise of God. [6] The Theological Dictionary of the Old Testament (TDOT) concludes, however, that zamar “is used in OT Hebrew solely in the sense ‘sing praises (accompanied by stringed instruments).’” [7]

According to The Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament the original meaning of mizmor is a song sung to an instrumental accompaniment. [8] The TDOT defines the term as a song (with instrumental accompaniment). [9] This accompaniment would be predominantly by stringed instruments. Stringed instruments were especially important for the accompaniment of the psalms in the Temple worship, as Edersheim explains:

That music was chiefly sustained by the harp (Kinnor) and the lute (Nevel). Of the latter (which was probably used for solos) not less than two nor more than six were to be in the Temple orchestra; of the former, or harp, as many as possible, but never less than nine. There were, of course, several varieties both of the Nevel and the Kinnor. The chief difference between these two kinds of instruments lay in this, that in the Nevel (lute or guitar) the strings were drawn over the sounding-board, while in the Kinnor they stood out free, as in our harps. [10]

By the time of the New Testament the term psalm was used especially, though not exclusively to refer to the collection of songs used in worship in the Temple. The title for the Book of Psalms in the Septuagint (LXX) is the Greek word Psalmoi, from which the English title is derived. Jesus used this term when He said that what was written about Him in the Psalms “must be fulfilled” (Luke 24:44). When Paul provided a paradigm for music in the church, he began his list with singing psalms (Ephesians 5:19, Colossians 3:16).

Song

Seventeen psalms are described only by the term song (shir). [11] Fifteen of these are the Songs of Ascent, songs that the people of Israel would sing on their way to Jerusalem and the Temple to celebrate the pilgrimage festivals (Deuteronomy 16:16–17). Eight psalms are described by the combination mizmor shir [12] and four with shir mizmor. [13] The double inscription of Psalm 88 has shir mizmor and maschil. One psalm, Psalm 45, is called A Song of Loves and a maschil.

Shir is a noun that simply means song. [14] It has a wide variety of sacred and secular uses. It is used of celebrating a journey (Genesis 31:27) as well as rejoicing in God (Exodus 15:1). While shir appears primarily in joyful contexts, it is also used in the headings of poems expressing lament (e.g. Psalm 88). It describes the singing of one voice (David’s solo in Psalm 18) as well as the combined praise of many voices, “The LORD has done great things for us; we are glad” (Psalm 126:3).

Compared to mizmor, shir is a more generic term with a broader meaning. Kraus explains in his commentary on the Psalms:

A differentiation between [shir] and [mizmor] could be stated only in this way, that [shir] probably originally and preponderantly denoted the vocal, cantillating presentation of a psalm, whereas [mizmor] primarily referred to singing accompanied instrumentally. [15]

While mizmor is a more specific designation indicating a song written for both voice and instruments (see above), shir simply denotes song or singing in general.

Prayer

Four psalms are designated as a prayer (tehillah). [16] In all four psalms, the psalmist expresses a trouble or difficulty. In light of this, Kraus suggests that the term in the Psalter means a prayer of lament or bidding prayer. [17] Psalm 90, for example, is titled: “A Prayer of Moses, the Man of God.” The psalm laments the fleeting days of man and is an extended petition for mercy and help:

Return, O LORD! How long?
Have pity on your servants!
Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love,
that we may rejoice and be glad all our days.
Make us glad for as many days as you have afflicted us,
and for as many years as we have seen evil.
(Psalm 90:13-15)

In one sense most of the 150 psalms could be titled a prayer, since in the vast majority God is personally addressed. The psalms are valuable models for prayer, exemplifying both praise and petition. Book II of the Psalter ends in Psalm 72:20 with the words: “The prayers of David the son of Jesse are ended.” This seems to indicate that most of the poems at least in the first two books were considered as prayers.

Praise

Only one psalm, Psalm 145, has the descriptive title tehillah, meaning praise, song of praise or praiseworthy deed. [18] Praise, however, is a term fitting for the entire Psalter. Praise is ultimate to the psalms. With the exception of Psalm 88, all the psalms include expressions of praise to God. [19] The Psalter is named in Hebrew tehillim (the plural of tehillah), meaning Praises. Although the Psalter begins with instruction (Psalm 1 contrasts the way of the wicked with the way of the righteous), and continues with many petitions and laments, it culminates in a loud crescendo of praise at the end (145–150). Everything in the book—prayers and teachings, joys and sorrows—moves toward praise to God. The psalm that bears the title of praise stands at the beginning of the final crescendo calling on all creation to glorify God.

The noun tehillah is derived from the verb halal (found only in the intensive stems in Scripture), meaning to praise. [20] Several psalms that center on joy and praise are included in a collection of psalms sung especially during the festival celebrations at the Temple. Sendrey explains:

Among the psalms sung at the high holidays, the group of the Hallel-psalms occupied the most prominent place. To this group belonged the “Egyptian Hallel,” as Pss. 113–118 are called in the rabbinic literature, the Great Hallel,” Pss. 120–136, and Pss. 146–148, specifically called the Hallel-psalms. [21]

As a descriptive term tehillah denotes a poem written to honor and extol the Lord, as Psalm 145:1–2 exemplifies:

I will extol you, my God, O King;
And bless your name forever and ever.
Every day I will bless you,
And praise your name forever and ever.

According to 1 Chronicles 16:4 praise was one of the three primary activities of the Levites as they ministered before the ark in the Tabernacle. The abundant use of praise in the psalms, even in petitions and laments, reveals that praise was an essential element in the music and worship of ancient Israel.

Testimony

The noun ‘eduth meaning a testimony, a witness or covenant is found in the heading of two psalms. It appears in Psalm 60 with michtam and in Psalm 80 with mizmor. The term is often used in the Old Testament to refer to God’s Law, the Ten Commandments. In Psalm 78:5–8 it appears with law (torah) where Asaph reminds God’s people of the command to teach God’s Word to children of each generation “that they may set their hope in God, and not forget the works of God.”

In Psalm 60 ‘eduth follows the phrase ‘al-shushan, meaning literally upon a lily. Some translations of Scripture connect the two headings as one. The KJV, ESV and NAS leave the headings connected and untranslated. The NKJV has Set to “Lily of the Testimony.” The NIV is similar: To the tune of “The Lily of the Covenant.” However in Psalm 80, where ‘eduth follows a similar phrase with the plural noun ‘el-shoshannim meaning upon Lilies, several versions treat the headings as separate titles of description. The plural noun is clearly in the Absolute state rather than Construct state (meaning it stands alone and is not linked to the following term). It can be translated to the tune “Lilies.” A Testimony, but not to the tune “Lilies of a Testimony.” The NKJV correctly reads: Set to “Lilies” A Testimony. As does the ESV: According to Lillies. A Testimony. The NAS also separates the headings while leaving them untranslated: set to El Shoshannim; Eduth. The NIV, however ignores the Absolute state of the noun shoshannim and connects both headings as in Psalm 60. The NIV reads: To the tune of “The Lilies of the Covenant.” The KJV connects the headings and leaves them untranslated.

In both headings ‘eduth should be regarded as a separate inscription meaning Testimony or Covenant. Both psalms bearing this description are similar. They portray the petitions of the covenant people who, due to their own sinfulness and rebellion, have fallen out of fellowship with God. Psalm 60 begins:

O God, you have rejected us, broken our defenses;
you have been angry; oh, restore us.
(Psalm 60:1)

The refrain in Psalm 80: 3, 7, and 19 echoes the same theme:

Restore us, O God;
let your face shine, that we may be saved!

Michtam

Michtam is the only descriptive heading in five psalms. [22] Psalm 60, the longest heading in the Psalter, has both michtam and testimony. The meaning of michtam is less certain, but it likely comes from a root meaning inscribed or written down, denoting a song that is preserved for public use or public benefit. The Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon offers the most likely translation of the term, an inscription. [23] Peter Craigie, in his commentary, agrees, stating that the “most probable” meaning is inscribed. [24]

All six occurrences of michtam involve psalms that express some kind of trouble. Marvin Tate in his commentary suggests that these are “all psalms of distress and crisis, in which the speaker moves to confidence and assurance that enemies will receive appropriate consequences for their deeds.” [25] Cragie adds: “Tentative support for this interpretation may come from the six psalms entitled Miktam in the Psalter; four, in their titles, are associated with times of crisis, which might have been events of sufficient moment to warrant recording an inscription.” [26] The michtam was a way for the psalmist to write down or inscribe both his cry to God and his confidence in God, so that when deliverance came, all would know that the God of Israel hears and answers the prayers of His people.

Maschil

This term maschil occurs at the beginning of twelve psalms: in ten headings as the only designation, [27] once with the heading Song of Loves (Psalm 45), and once with shir mizmor (Psalm 88).

The meaning of maschil is uncertain. The KJV, NAS, NIV, and ESV all leave the term untranslated. The NKJV translates the term as a contemplation. Scholars have proposed a variety of possible meanings. Ernest Klein suggests that the term means wise, skillful, or intelligent and refers to ” a kind of didactic poem.” [28] Kraus also calls the term “an ‘artistic song’ or ‘didactic song.’” [29] This is supported by the use of the term as a participle in 2 Chronicles 30:22 where it refers to Levites who were skilled in the worship of God and were responsible for teaching God’s people. A maschil then denotes a lyrical poem used in the teaching ministry of the Levites. These are songs filled with counsel and instruction.

I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go;
I will counsel you with my eye upon you.
(Psalm 32:8)

The use of maschil in Psalm 53 demonstrates some overlap in the psalm inscriptions. Psalm 53 from Book II in the Psalter is designated as a maschil; Psalm 14 in Book I is called a psalm (mizmor). Both have identical texts except for the name used of God in the second verse. [30]

Shiggaion

The meaning of shiggaion is also uncertain. Most modern versions of Scripture leave the term untranslated. The NKJV renders the term a meditation. Kraus suggests the rendering lamentation. [31] The term occurs in the Psalter only in Psalm 7, although it is also used in Habakkuk 3. Both songs compare the wrath of God toward the wicked with the mercy of God toward the righteous.

Shiggaion may relate to a root in Hebrew meaning to go astray. [32] This would suggest the rendering wandering psalm implying an uneven poetic meter or the expression of unsettled thoughts. This would be fitting for the text in which David grapples with the curses spoken to him by Cush. In Psalm. 7:3-5 David prays:

O LORD my God, if I have done this,
if there is wrong in my hands,
if I have repaid my friend with evil
or plundered my enemy without cause,
let the enemy pursue my soul and overtake it,
and let him trample my life to the ground
and lay my glory in the dust. Selah

David resolves at the end of the psalm:

I will give to the LORD the thanks due to his righteousness,
and I will sing praise to the name of the LORD, the Most High.
(Psalm 7:17)

Habakkuk also grapples with a difficult issue, God’s use of the Babylonians as a means to chastise His people. In Habakkuk 3:16 he laments:

I hear, and my body trembles;
my lips quiver at the sound;
rottenness enters into my bones;
my legs tremble beneath me.
Yet I will quietly wait for the day of trouble
to come upon people who invade us.

Like David, Habakkuk resolves in the end that he will praise God:

yet I will rejoice in the LORD;
I will take joy in the God of my salvation.
GOD, the Lord, is my strength;
he makes my feet like the deer’s;
he makes me tread on my high places.
(Habakkuk 3:18–19)

Conclusion

There are at least eight types of musical composition represented in the Book of Psalms: psalm (an accompanied song, usually with stringed instruments), song (singing with or without accompaniment), prayer (a petition for mercy and help), praise (honoring and exalting God), testimony (a prayer of contrition from God’s covenant people), michtam (an inscription to mark a significant event), maschil (a song of instruction), and shiggaion (a complaint grappling with evil and injustice).

These titles of description are part of the rich diversity found in the Psalter. The psalms are filled with a wide range of expression in worship, from lament to joy, from a single voice to a vast convocation, from quiet and stillness to loud, reverberating praise. Added to this, shaping this expression, are a variety of poetic and musical forms. These forms encourage the worshipper to sing, play music, pray, praise, grapple with injustice, repent of sin, gain wisdom, and write down significant events when we placed our confidence in God. The music of the Psalter stands as the fount of church music and sets a precedent for the rich variety and abundance of poetic and musical forms used in worship through history.

Notes:

[1] Psalm 3, 4, 5, 6, 8, 9, 12, 13, 14, 15, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 29, 31, 38, 39, 40, 41, 47, 49, 50, 51, 62, 63, 64, 73, 77, 79, 82, 84, 85, 98, 100, 101, 109, 110, 139, 140, 141, 143.
[2] Psalm 30, 48, 65, 66, 67, 68, 75, 76, 83, 87, 92 and 108.
[3] Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament [TWOT], 1:245; William L. Holladay, A Concise Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publ. Co., 1988), 189.
[4] Holladay, A Concise Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon, 89–90; Ludwig Koehler and Walter Baumgartner, The Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament, trans. and ed. M. E. J. Richardson (New York: E. J. Brill, 1994–2003), 1:273–274. This meaning of the verb occurs in Leviticus 25:3 and Isaiah 5:6 (The Song of the Vineyard).
[5] TWOT, 1:245
[6] The New Brown–Driver–Briggs–Gesenius Hebrew and English Lexicon [BDB], 274.
[7] Theological Dictionary of the Old Testament [TDOT], 4:98.
[8] Koehler and Baumgartner, Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon, 2:566.
[9] TDOT, 4:94.
[10] Alfred Edersheim, The Temple: Its Ministry and Services (New York: F. H. Revell, 1874; reprint, Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publ. Co., 1987), 78-79.
[11] Psalm 18, 46, 120–134.
[12] Psalm 30, 65, 67, 68, 75, 76, 87, 92.
[13] Psalm 48, 66, 83, 108.
[14] Holladay, A Concise Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon, 367-68; BDB, 1010
[15] Hans-Joachim Kraus, Psalm 1–59: A Commentary, trans. Hilton C. Oswald (Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg, 1988), 22.
[16] Psalm 17, 86, 90, 120.
[17] Kraus, Psalms 1-59: A Commentary, 26
[18] [BDB, 239; Holladay, A Concise Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon, 387; TWOT, 1:218.
[19] Even in Psalm 88, the psalmist expresses his concern for the praise of God in verse 10.
[20] Holladay, A Concise Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon, 80–81
[21] Alfred Sendrey, Music in Ancient Israel (New York: Philosophical Library, Inc., 1969), 176-77.
[22] Psalm 16, 56–59.
[23] Ludwig Koehler and Walter Baumgartner, Hebräisches und Aramäiches Lexikon zum Alten Testament, 3d ed. (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1967 – 1990), 551. “Aufschift.”
[24] Peter C. Craigie, Psalm 1-50, Word Biblical Commentary, eds. David A. Hubbard, et al., vol. 19 (Waco, TX: Word Books, 1983), 154, note 1.a.
[25] Marvin E. Tate, Psalm 51-100, Word Biblical Commentary, eds. David A. Hubbard, et al., vol. 20 (Dallas, Texas: Word Books, 1990), 66.
[26] Craigie, Psalm 1-50, 154, note 1.a.
[27] Psalm 32, 42, 52, 53, 54, 55, 74, 78, 89, 142
[28] Ernest Klein, A Comprehensive Etymological Dictionary of the Hebrew Language for Readers of English. (New York, MacMillian Publishing Company, 1987), 391
[29] Kraus, Psalms 1-59: A Commentary, 25.
[30] Psalm 14 uses Yahweh LORD. Psalm 53 has Elohim God.
[31] Kraus, Psalms 1-59: A Commentary, 26
[32] Craigie, Psalm 1-50, 97.

This series is based on a seminar paper for “Special Research in Church Music” at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary (May 1995).

See a Table of Contents (thus far) for this series: Lessons from the Psalm Inscriptions

(Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version (ESV) ©2001 by Crossway)

Confronted by Apollyon

But now, in this Valley of Humiliation, poor Christian was hard put to it; for he had gone but a little way, before he espied a foul fiend coming over the field to meet him; his name is Apollyon. Then did Christian begin to be afraid, and to cast in his mind whether to go back or to stand his ground. But he considered again that he had no armor for his back; and therefore thought that to turn the back to him might give him the greater advantage with ease to pierce him with his darts.

Therefore he resolved to venture and stand his ground; for, thought he, had I no more in mine eye than the saving of my life, it would be the best way to stand.

So he went on, and Apollyon met him. Now the monster was hideous to behold; he was clothed with scales, like a fish, (and they are his pride,) he had wings like a dragon, feet like a bear, and out of his belly came fire and smoke, and his mouth was as the mouth of a lion. When he was come up to Christian, he beheld him with a disdainful countenance, and thus began to question with him.

Apollyon: Whence come you? And whither are you bound?

Christian: I am come from the City of Destruction, which is the place of all evil, and am going to the City of Zion.

Apollyon: By this I perceive you are one of my subjects, for all that country is mine, and I am the prince and god of it. How is it, then, that you have run away from your king? Were it not that I hope you may do me more service, I would strike you now, at one blow, to the ground.

Christian: I was born, indeed, in your dominions, but your service was hard, and your wages such as a man could not live on, “for the wages of sin is death.” Therefore, when I was come to years, I did, as other considerate persons do, look out, if, perhaps, I might mend myself.

Apollyon: There is no prince that will thus lightly lose his subjects, neither will I as yet lose you; but since you complain of your service and wages, be content to go back: what our country will afford, I do here promise to give you.

Christian: But I have let myself to another, even to the King of princes; and how can I, with fairness, go back with you?

Apollyon: You have done in this, according to the proverb, “Changed a bad for a worse”; but it is ordinary for those who have professed themselves his servants, after a while to give him the slip, and return again to me. Do you so too, and all shall be well.

Christian: I have given him my faith, and sworn my allegiance to him; how, then, can I go back from this, and not be hanged as a traitor?

Apollyon: You did the same to me, and yet I am willing to pass by all, if now you will yet turn again and go back.

Christian: What I promised you was in my nonage; and, besides, I count the Prince under whose banner now I stand is able to absolve me; yea, and to pardon also what I did as to my compliance with you; and besides, O you destroying Apollyon! to speak truth, I like his service, his wages, his servants, his government, his company, and country, better than yours; and, therefore, leave off to persuade me further; I am his servant, and I will follow him.

Apollyon: Consider, again, when you are in cool blood, what you are like to meet with in the way that you are going. You know that, for the most part, his servants come to an ill end, because they are transgressors against me and my ways. How many of them have been put to shameful deaths! And, besides, you count his service better than mine, whereas he never came yet from the place where he is to deliver any that served him out of their hands. But as for me, how many times, as all the world very well knows, have I delivered, either by power, or fraud, those that have faithfully served me, from him and his, though taken by them; and so I will deliver you.

Christian: His forbearing at present to deliver them is on purpose to try their love, whether they will cleave to him to the end; and as for the ill end you say they come to, that is most glorious in their account; for, for present deliverance, they do not much expect it, for they stay for their glory, and then they shall have it when their Prince comes in his and the glory of the angels.

Apollyon: You have already been unfaithful in your service to him; and how do you think to receive wages of him?

Christian: Wherein, O Apollyon! have I been unfaithful to him?

Apollyon: You did faint at first setting out, when you were almost choked in the Gulf of Despond. You did attempt wrong ways to be rid of your burden, whereas you should have stayed till your Prince had taken it off. You did sinfully sleep and lose your choice thing. You were, also, almost persuaded to go back at the sight of the lions. And when you talk of your journey, and of what you have heard and seen, you are inwardly desirous of vain-glory in all that you say or do.

Christian: All this is true, and much more which you have left out; but the Prince whom I serve and honor is merciful, and ready to forgive. But, besides, these infirmities possessed me in your country, for there I sucked them in; and I have groaned under them, been sorry for them, and have obtained pardon of my Prince.

Then Apollyon broke out into a grievous rage, saying, I am an enemy to this Prince; I hate his person, his laws, and people; I am come out on purpose to withstand thee.

Christian and ApollyonChristian does not go far in the Valley of Humiliation until he meets with danger. Across the field he sees a frightening monster coming toward him. The name of the “foul fiend” is Apollyon, which means “Destroyer.” Bunyan draws both the name and description of the beast from Scripture. In the book of Revelation Apollyon is a fallen angel who leads a destructive force of demons.

And they had as king over them the angel of the bottomless pit, whose name in Hebrew is Abaddon, but in Greek he has the name Apollyon (Revelation 9:11).

Bunyan’s description of Apollyon in the allegory comes from the Job’s account of the monster Leviathan:

His rows of scales are his pride,
Shut up tightly as with a seal;
One is so near another
That no air can come between them;
They are joined one to another,
They stick together and cannot be parted.
His sneezings flash forth light,
And his eyes are like the eyelids of the morning.
Out of his mouth go burning lights;
Sparks of fire shoot out.
Smoke goes out of his nostrils,
As from a boiling pot and burning rushes.
His breath kindles coals,
And a flame goes out of his mouth.
(Job 41:15–21)

And John’s account of the dragon and the beast in Revelation:

So the great dragon was cast out, that serpent of old, called the Devil and Satan, who deceives the whole world; he was cast to the earth, and his angels were cast out with him (Revelation 12:9).

Now the beast which I saw was like a leopard, his feet were like the feet of a bear, and his mouth like the mouth of a lion. The dragon gave him his power, his throne, and great authority (Revelation 13:2).

Apollyon represents the Devil and the spiritual forces of evil that oppose God and seek to destroy and diminish God’s work and God’s glory. He has come to confront Christian and turn him away from following Christ. He begins his challenge by asking Christian where he is from and where he is going. Christian tells him that he is from the City of Destruction but on his way to the City of Zion. Apollyon then replies by claiming Christian as one of his subjects and asking him why he is running away from his king.

Apollyon’s reply may not be fully understood in our day, especially in the context of the political framework we have in the United States. Bunyan was born in 1628 during the reign of Charles I. He was later imprisoned (for the first time in 1660) after the monarchy had been restored under Charles II. In Bunyan’s day the subjects of the kingdom were considered the property of the Crown. They were owned by the one who ruled. Because of this it was against the law for a subject to leave the country and travel outside the king’s realm without first petitioning and receiving permission from the king. Today we think nothing of traveling if we so desire. But in Bunyan’s day it was treason to sneak out of the country. So Apollyon, claiming to be a prince and a god, asks why Christian has run from his king.

The dialog that follows is one of the most insightful passages in all of The Pilgrim’s Progress. In it Bunyan offers several lessons on spiritual warfare: both ploys that the devil uses to lure Christians away from following Christ, and ways that Christians can resist and stand against the devil in spiritual warfare.

Note first the schemes that Apollyon uses to attempt to weaken Christian’s resolve and turn him back:

Ploys of the Devil

1. He tries to make sin look promising, prosperous and alluring.

The devil would have us believe that our sins are more pleasurable and desirable than the joys and riches we have in Christ. If Christian goes back, he promises to give him “what our country will afford” as if that can satisfy Christian’s heart. But Christian understands that Apollyon’s service is hard and “the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23). Satan is an “angel of light” (2 Corinthians 11:14) who can, for a time, make bondage seem like freedom, and ruin feel like happiness. From the beginning he has been a deceiver and a liar (Genesis 3:13; John 8:44; 2 Corinthians 11:3; Revelation 12:9, 20:10). We must be on guard against the deadly error of believing that we can find true satisfaction and contentment in yielding to and living in sin.

2. He points to the apostasy and hypocrisy of others.

Apollyon assures Christian: “But it is ordinary for those who have professed themselves his servants, after a while to give him the slip, and return again to me. Do you so too, and all shall be well.” Here Bunyan uses a play on words. Slip means to fall or lose your balance, but it can also mean to desert or sneak away—to slip out. Christian lost his footing and slipped on the way down into the valley. We learn in Part 2 of the allegory that it was these slips (his struggles with his pride) that caused this confrontation with Apollyon:

Then said Mr. Great-heart, We need not to be so afraid of this Valley, for here is nothing to hurt us, unless we procure it to ourselves. It is true, Christian did here meet with Apollyon, with whom he also had a sore combat; but that fray was the fruit of those slips that he got in his going down the hill; for they that get slips there, must look for combats here. And hence it is, that this Valley has got so hard a name.

Apollyon points to others who have given Christ the slip in an attempt to sway Christian into thinking that he is already on the way to desertion because of his own slips coming down in the Valley. The Devil is “the accuser” (Revelation 12:10) and we must be wary of his schemes to dissuade us from looking to Christ.

3. He points to the trials and hardships of following Christ.

He describes those who have suffered and died for the sake of Christ. To those who walk by sight, it appears that they have been defeated and let down by God. But “faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1). Those who walk by faith are as Christian “pilgrims on the earth” who “desire a better, that is, a heavenly country (Hebrews 11:13–16). Christian does not fall for Apollyon’s false promises of deliverance, but trusts that, no matter how difficult the circumstances may be, no matter how dark the outcome may appear, his King will safely bring him to glory.

4. He points to Christian’s own failings and sin.

Apollyon now makes the attack personal. He begins to accuse Christian of all the ways he has failed to follow his King: when he fell into the Slough of Despond; when he followed the advise of Worldly Wiseman and left the Way to find relief from his burden in the town of Morality; when he fell asleep in the Arbor on Hill Difficulty; and when he lost heart and almost turned back at the sight of the lions at the entrance to House Beautiful. With each reminder of these failing Apollyon attempts to discourage Christian of any hope of reaching his destination.

5. Finally he attacks Christian’s motives for following Christ.

As a final blow to conclude his argument, Apollyon attempts to cast suspicion on the very motive for Christian seeking the City of Zion. He accuses Christian of venturing to Zion for selfish reasons—for vain-glory. Christian is not living to honor and glorify God, but for the hope of reward and pleasure.

So how does Christian resist the Devil and engage in spiritual warfare? Take note of three important lessons:

Resisting the Devil

1. Christian stands his ground.

When Christian first sees the approaching fiend, he resolves to venture forward and stay in the Way. He realizes that he has no armor for his back. If he chooses to forsake the Way and go back, he will make himself even more vulnerable and open to attack. We must learn to stand our ground and stay in the fight against sin and temptation. We must not turn back from following Christ when the Way is hard and standing for truth is difficult. To go back is Destruction and to play into the devil’s hand.

Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour. Resist him, steadfast in the faith, knowing that the same sufferings are experienced by your brotherhood in the world (1 Peter 5:8–9).

2. Christian speaks most often of his King, not of himself.

Notice in the exchange with Apollyon that Christian does not dwell on his sin or his circumstances or himself. Rather, as Apollyon continues to press him, he over and over again speaks of his King. He tells Apollyon: “But I have let myself to another, even to the King of princes;” “I have given him my faith, and sworn my allegiance to him;” “I count the Prince under whose banner now I stand is able to absolve me;” “I like his service, his wages, his servants, his government, his company, and country;” and “I am his servant, and I will follow him.”

In the midst of temptation, Christian does not set his attention on himself, his foe or his struggle. He sets it firmly on His King. What causes most Christians to stumble in the Valley of Humiliation is pride; they exalt themselves in their thinking rather than Christ. Tom Ascol offers this helpful definition of pride: “What is pride but being full of yourself? It is thinking too much of yourself or thinking of yourself too much” (from a sermon given November 7, 2010 on 1 Corinthians 8:1–3). We can fall into pride when we are overconfident of our own strength and boast in ourselves. Or we can fall into pride when we despair and speak only of our struggles and failures. In both cases we lose sight of Christ and make ourselves spiritually vulnerable. We must learn from Christian’s example to take our eyes (and our conversation) off ourselves and fix them on Christ.

3. Christian owns his sin and rests in mercy of his King.

When Apollyon tries to shame Christian by accusing him of sin and unfaithfulness, notice how Christian responds. He doesn’t try to rationalize his sin. He doesn’t downplay or deny his sin. He doesn’t blame others or make excuses. He confesses, “All this is true and much more that you have left out.” And then he casts himself on the mercy and kindness of his King: “But the Prince whom I serve and honor is merciful and ready to forgive.” Christian humbles himself and remembers what God did to rescue him from certain Destruction. The shamefulness of his sins, more numerous than Apollyon can enumerate, had already been put on display—his Savior was nailed to a cross. But at the cross the abundance of God’s mercy was displayed as well—his Savior died in his place that he might know true forgiveness and peace. It is this humbling and liberating truth of the gospel that enables Christian to stand and resist the ploys of the devil. He is a great sinner, but Christ is a greater Savior with grace and mercy in abundance.

Christian’s answer sends Apollyon into a fierce rage. In the next post we will examine the battle that ensues and draw out more lessons on engaging in spiritual warfare.

A Guide to John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress
See TOC for more posts from this commentary

The text for The Pilgrim’s Progress and images used are public domain
Notes and Commentary ©2014 Ken Puls
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the New King James Version (NKJV) ©1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc.

Into the Valley of Humiliation

Now he bethought himself of setting forward, and they were willing he should. But first, said they, let us go again into the armory. So they did; and when they came there, they harnessed him from head to foot with what was of proof, lest, perhaps, he should meet with assaults in the way. He being, therefore, thus accoutered, walked out with his friends to the gate, and there he asked the Porter if he saw any pilgrims pass by. Then the Porter answered, Yes.

Christian: Pray, did you know him? said he.

Porter: I asked him his name, and he told me it was Faithful.

Oh, said Christian, I know him. He is my townsman, my near neighbor. He comes from the place where I was born. How far do you think he may be before?

Porter: He is got by this time below the hill.

Well, said Christian, good Porter, the Lord be with you, and add to all your blessings much increase, for the kindness that you have shown to me.

Then he began to go forward; but Discretion, Piety, Charity, and Prudence would accompany him down to the foot of the hill. So they went on together, reiterating their former discourses, till they came to go down the hill. Then said Christian: As it was difficult coming up, so, so far as I can see, it is dangerous going down. Yes, said Prudence, so it is, for it is a hard matter for a man to go down into the Valley of Humiliation, as you are doing now, and to catch no slip by the way; therefore, said they, are we come out to accompany you down the hill. So he began to go down, but very warily; yet he caught a slip or two.

Then I saw in my dream that these good companions, when Christian was gone to the bottom of the hill, gave him a loaf of bread, a bottle of wine, and a cluster of raisins; and then he went on his way.

In this final scene at Palace Beautiful Bunyan highlights another important role of the church in the life of a believer. It is in the house of God that we are equipped and made ready to face the trials and temptations of this life. This world is a spiritual battlefield, and before Christian departs to resume his journey, the family takes him again to the armory to be sure he is properly fit and dressed in the armor of the Lord (Ephesians 6:10-20).

Palace Beautiful has been a high point in Christian’s journey. Here for a time he has found refuge, refreshment and great encouragement. Now he is going down into the Valley of Humiliation. As Christian descends, take note:

1. Christian learns from the Porter of another pilgrim who recently passed by. This traveler spoke with the Porter and told him his name was Faithful. Christian has learned the value of fellowship and walking together in the church. He is encouraged by the news and inquires about Faithful’s whereabouts. Perhaps Faithful is still close enough in the Way for Christian to overtake and join in the journey.

2. As Christian leaves he thanks the Porter (one of several characters in the allegory who represents the work of a pastor) for his kindness in serving him. We should as well take time to thank and pray for our pastors who watch over and care for us.

Valley of Humiliation3. Christian does not go down the hill alone. He is accompanied by some of the family members: Discretion, Piety, Charity and Prudence. As they make the descent, they rehearse and remind Christian of the truth and promises of God’s Word. Bunyan’s point is clear. We need the company and support of God’s people when we go down into spiritual valleys and face times of difficulty and distress. We need their encouragements and admonitions. We need the spiritual qualities of discretion, piety, charity and prudence to guide us and help us make wise choices.

4. Christian is warned to be cautious going down. He notes that it was difficult coming up (he passed through the lions when he gained entrance to the Palace) and it is dangerous going down. This warning may at first seem out of place at this point in the story. After all, Christian has been strengthened and armed for battle. Certainly he is more prepared now than at any point in his journey thus far to face danger. Yet we must take note: Descending is a much harder task than ascending. “Coming down” after times of great spiritual victory and refreshment, when the realities of the world around us rush in and over us, can be surprisingly “dangerous.” Spiritual pride can convince us to presume and spiritual fatigue can cause us to let down our guard. It is at times like these when we are more susceptible to catch a slip or two. William Mason, in his commentary on The Pilgrim’s Progress, explains:

Thus it is, after a pilgrim has been favored with any special and peculiar blessings, there is danger of his being puffed up by them, and exalted on account of them; so was even holy Paul; therefore, the messenger of Satan was permitted to buffet him (2 Cor. 12:7). In our present mixed state, the Lord knows it would not be best for us always to dwell on the mount of spiritual joy; therefore, for the good of the soul, the flesh must be humbled, and kept low lest spiritual pride prevail. It is hard going down into the Valley of Humiliation, without slipping into murmuring and discontent, and calling in question the dealings of God with us.

These slips can take many forms: fear, doubt, restlessness, grumbling, impatience, self-indulgence, carelessness, to name a few. Later in the allegory, when Christian tells his story to Hopeful, he identifies three villains who tried to cause him to stumble at the entrance to the valley: Faint-Heart, Mistrust and Guilt.

We must be on guard when we look back on spiritual progress and success, lest we fall when we think we should stand. The prophet Elijah was bold on Mount Caramel (1 Kings 18:20-40), at a high point in his stand for truth. But he was running for his life in fear of Jezebel in the following chapter (1 Kings 19:1-3) and crying in lament: “It is enough; now, O LORD, take away my life, for I am no better than my fathers” (1 Kings 19:4). If we are not careful to keep watch (for ourselves and for others), we can too easily fall prey to doubt and sin. With every advancement Satan would threaten to cast a dark cloud over all the spiritual good and progress we have made. And when we do catch a slip, we must remember the help and mercy of the Lord is always there to lift us up:

Unless the LORD had been my help,
My soul would soon have settled in silence.
If I say, “My foot slips,”
Your mercy, O LORD, will hold me up.
(Psalm 94:17-18)

5. Christian is given provisions for the journey. The family of the Palace provides him with bread, wine and a cluster of raisins. Bunyan alludes here to an account the Old Testament. These were the provisions sent to refresh David and his men when they were in the wilderness.

When David was a little past the top of the mountain, there was Ziba the servant of Mephibosheth, who met him with a couple of saddled donkeys, and on them two hundred loaves of bread, one hundred clusters of raisins, one hundred summer fruits, and a skin of wine. And the king said to Ziba, “What do you mean to do with these?” So Ziba said, “The donkeys are for the king’s household to ride on, the bread and summer fruit for the young men to eat, and the wine for those who are faint in the wilderness to drink” (2 Samuel 16:1-2).

These provisions remind us of God’s abundant supply of grace and mercy in Christ. Though Christian has feasted on the rich truth of the gospel at Palace Beautiful, he must now take what he has learned and continue to feed on Christ as he continues in the Way. He will soon be put to the test. He will need to draw on the wisdom he has gained, wield the sword he has been given, and stand firm in the truth he has grasped. In Christ we have all we need to fight the fight of faith and complete the journey.

A Guide to John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress
See TOC for more posts from this commentary

The text for The Pilgrim’s Progress and images used are public domain
Notes and Commentary ©2014 Ken Puls
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the New King James Version (NKJV) ©1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc.

Come Seek the Lord

Peaceful Waters

Come to Me, you weary;
Come to Me and find rest.
Take My Yoke upon you;
Come and know peace and gentleness.

For why do you still labor,
Weighed down with pain and guilt and care,
Oppressed and crushed down under
A load you cannot bear?

Come seek the Lord, you afflicted;
Seek Him while He may be found.
Today is the day of salvation,
When grace and mercy have come down.

Come to Me, you thirsty;
Come to Me and drink.
Though you have no money;
Come and buy and eat.

For why do you spend money
For that which is not bread
And squander all your wages
On empty things instead?

Come seek the Lord, you hungry;
In Him is fullness of delight;
Abundance overflowing
To immeasurable depth and height.

Come to Me, you wayward;
Lost in the darkness and the strife.
My Word will guide your footsteps,
For I am the way, the truth, the life.

For why do you still wander
Down pathways that lead to sin and death,
Forsaking the One who made you,
Who gives you each day your life and breath?

Come seek the Lord, you wanderer,
Seeking to satisfy your soul.
In Him is joy beyond all measure,
For He alone can make you whole.

And come seek the Lord, you hungry;
In Him is fullness of delight;
Abundance overflowing
To immeasurable depth and height.

Yes, come seek the Lord, you afflicted;
Seek Him while He may be found.
Today is the day of salvation,
When grace and mercy have come down.

Come to Me, you weary;
Come to Me and find rest.

Words and Music ©2008 Kenneth A Puls

This worship song is based on Isaiah 55:1 and Matthew 11:28.

Read more about how this song came to be written. And download free PDF lead sheet, chord chart, and recording of the song from the Morning Service at Grace Baptist Church, Cape Coral, Florida on Sunday, November 2, 2014.

 

Lessons from the Psalm Inscriptions: Titles of Designation

The Servant of the Lord

Lessons from the Psalm Inscriptions
In Leading God’s People in Prayer and Praise

Titles of Designation

Many of the psalms suggest by their language that they began as individual expressions of devotion that came out of a personal experience. In time these psalms became corporate prayers voiced by the whole congregation who could relate to common experiences. The use of the first person and the numerous accounts of events in the personal lives of the psalmists, make it clear that the majority of the psalms were originally private prayers. The transition of these prayers from private devotional poetry to public congregational song is preserved in the psalm inscriptions that denote the source or the destination of the psalm.

About half of the 337 inscriptions fit into the category of designation. These are titles using the Hebrew preposition  לֹ. They can denote the author(s) of the psalm, the recipient(s) of the psalm, or in some places, to whom the psalm is dedicated. Having specific names attached to the psalms provides a personal connection and historical context that can be helpful in understanding the words.

Of David (ascribed to David)

Almost half of the psalms (73) are attributed to David; most of these are in Books I and II of the Psalter. The connection of the psalms with the heading of David to events in David’s life supports the interpretation of the inscription as denoting authorship. The extended title of Psalm 18, for example, makes it clear that David is the author: “Ascribed To David, Which he spoke to Yahweh the words of this song on the day that Yahweh delivered him from the hand of all his enemies and from the hand of Saul.”

To the Servant of Yahweh

Two psalms (18 and 36), along with the designation to David, also contain the phrase to the Servant of Yahweh, which most likely is a further description of David. David is often called in Scripture a servant of the LORD. [1] The NKJV and ESV translate the phrases together as “A Psalm of David the servant of the LORD.”

Of Solomon

David’s son, Solomon is credited with only two psalms (72 and 127). This is striking given the testimony of 1 Kings 4:32 that Solomon spoke 3,000 proverbs and composed 1005 songs. Psalm 72 is an appropriate prayer for a king known for his wisdom. It begins: “Give the king your justice, O God, and your righteousness to the royal son! May he judge your people with righteousness, and your poor with justice! (72:1-2, ESV).” Although this psalm is attributed to Solomon, the final verse reads: “The prayers of David, the son of Jesse, are ended.” This may suggest that the psalm was actually composed by David with reference to or for his son, Solomon.

Psalm 127 is also a fitting psalm for Solomon. It concerns the building of the Temple, a task that fell to Solomon during his reign. This psalm begins: “Unless the LORD builds the house, those who build it labor in vain.” Psalm 127 is one of the Songs of the Ascents, sung by the people as they made their way to worship in Jerusalem at the annual festivals.

Of Asaph

Psalm 50 and a collection of eleven psalms (73–83) that begins Book III in the Psalter are attributed to Asaph. Asaph was one of three Levites, along with Heman and Jeduthun, appointed by David to lead the music in the tabernacle in the worship of God. [2] The poetry of the psalms ascribed to Asaph reflects the heart of one whose life was focused on the worship of God in Jerusalem. Psalm 50:2 says: “Out of Zion, the perfection of beauty, God shines forth.” In Psalm 73 Asaph contemplates the apparent prosperity of the wicked and is perplexed until he goes “into the sanctuary of God” and in the context of worship and serving God begins to understand their end. In Psalm 74:2 he prays for God’s people gathered for worship:

Remember your congregation, which you have purchased of old,
which you have redeemed to be the tribe of your heritage!
Remember Mount Zion, where you have dwelt.

Psalm 76 begins:

In Judah God is known;
his name is great in Israel.
His abode has been established in Salem,
his dwelling place in Zion.

Ascribed to the Sons of Korah

Eleven psalms are attributed to the sons of Korah (Psalm 42, 44–49, 84, 85, 87, 88). Korah was the son of Kohath of the tribe of Levi (1 Chronicles 6:22). The psalms ascribed to the sons of Korah may include music they composed as well as music they gathered into a collection for worship. According to 2 Chronicles 6:33–38, Heman, one of David’s three chief musicians, was a descendent of Korah. [3] This Heman, a Levite, should be distinguished from another biblical poet of the same name, Heman the Ezrahite.

Of Heman, the Ezrahite

Psalm 88 presents a difficulty in that it contains a double inscription. It is called both “a Song a Psalm of the Sons of Korah” and “a Maschil of Heman the Ezrahite.” If Heman, the descendant of Korah, is meant here as the author, the difficulty is solved; but the phrase the Ezrahite presents a problem in that it appears to refer to another biblical character named Heman related to Ethan the Ezrahite (1 Kings 4:31 and 1 Chronicles 2:6). This Heman was a descendant of Judah known for his wisdom. If this inscription to Heman, the descendant of Judah, denotes him as author, then the additional inscription to the sons of Korah likely means that the song was also included in a collection that the sons of Korah compiled for worship.

Of Ethan, the Ezrahite

One Psalm in the Psalter, Psalm 89, is attributed to Ethan, the Ezrahite. At least three men in Scripture have the name Ethan, causing some confusion as to who is meant in this inscription. Jeduthun, one of David’s appointed musicians, is called Ethan in 1 Chronicles 6:44 and 15:17, but the clarification in the title, the Ezrahite, makes it clear that he is not the one intended here. One other Levite, referred to in 1 Chronicles 6:42, is also called Ethan. The Ethan denoted in the title, however, is a wiseman of the tribe of Judah, related to Heman mentioned above (1 Kings 4:31 and 1 Chronicles 2:6).

Of Moses, the man of God

Book IV opens with “A Prayer of Moses, the man of God.” This prayer in Psalm 90 is the only psalm attributed to the great prophet and leader of Israel. Moses is certainly portrayed in Scripture as skilled in music. In the first song of praise recorded in the canon of Scripture, he leads the children of Israel in singing “The Song of Moses,” celebrating God’s victory over the Egyptians (Exodus 15 1-18). In Deuteronomy 31:19 God commands Moses:

Now therefore write this song and teach it to the people of Israel. Put it in their mouths, that this song may be a witness for me against the people of Israel.

Deuteronomy 31:30 declares that Moses obeyed the Lord and taught Israel the song recorded in Deuteronomy 32:1–43. Another prayer of Moses is recorded in Deuteronomy 33 where he blesses the tribes of Israel. The introduction to this prayer is similar to the title of Psalm 90 in that Moses is called in both places “the man of God.”

To the Chief Musician

The heading to the chief musician appears in 55 psalms. [4] The inscription consists of the preposition  לֹ  meaning to or for, the definite article (the) and a Piel (intensive stem) participle from the verb natsach. In the Qal (active stem) the verb means to shine or to be pre-eminent. In the Piel (intensive stem) it means to lead, to direct or to supervise.

The inscription to the chief musician denotes the recipient of the music. These are songs that were specifically designated by David and others to be given to the Temple musicians and used in the gathered worship of God’s people. The KJV and NKJV translate the inscription as to the Chief Musician; the NAS has for the Choir Director; the ESV has to the Choirmaster; and the NIV reads for the Director of Music. The NRSV has simply to the Leader, ignoring the association of the term to music.

To Jeduthun

Jeduthun was one of the chief musicians appointed by David and also one of the king’s seers. [5] He is called Ethan twice in 1 Chronicles, but should not be confused with the other men in the Bible named Ethan mentioned above. His name appears in the headings to three psalms that likely denote him as the recipient (specifying a particular chief musician) rather than the author: Psalm 39 and 62 (both psalms of David) and Psalm 77 (ascribed to Asaph).

Conclusion

The titles of designation offer some helpful insights into the composition of music for worship in the Old Testament.

    1. There is a connection made in many psalms between song-writer and lyrics. The inscriptions remind us that songs are often written in the crucible of personal experience, even painful and trying experience. We will explore this further in the discussion on titles of explanation.
    2. The personal connection between psalm and song-writer is apparent as well in the language of many of the psalms. There is a precedent in Scripture for voicing prayers and songs in first-person (“I” and “me”) even in a corporate setting. Unlike the conventional wisdom of those in our day who discourage the use of first-person in congregational music, those who wrote and compiled the Old Testament psalms did not see a need to change the wording of “I’ and “me” to “we” and “us.” Even in gathered worship, as we lift our voices together, we can express individual cries and praises of the heart.
    3. The titles of designation highlight the ministry of individuals (and groups of individuals) who compose, compile and lead music for worship. They are a reminder that we should be grateful and pray for song-writers, musicians and worship leaders in the church. Pray that God would continue to raise up in every age and in every place those who would invest their musical gifts for the benefit of God’s people.

Notes:

[1] See 1 Samuel 23:10; 25:39; 2 Samuel 3:18; 7:5, 8, 20, 26; 24:10; 1 Kings 8:25, 66; 2 Kings 8:19; 1 Chronicles 17:4, 7, 24; 2 Chronicles 6:16, 17, 42; Ezekiel 34:24.
[2] 1 Chronicles 15:16–19; 16:4–7; 25:1–9; 2 Chronicles 5:11–14; 35:15.
[3] See also 1 Chronicles 15:17, 19; 16:41; 25:5; 2 Chronicles 5:12; 35:15.
[4] Psalm 4, 5, 6, 8, 9, 11, 12, 13, 14, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 31, 36, 39, 40, 41, 42, 44, 45, 46, 47, 49, 51, 52, 53, 54, 55, 56, 57, 58, 59, 60, 61, 62, 64, 65, 66, 67, 68, 69, 70, 75, 76, 77, 80, 81, 84, 85, 109, 139, 140.
[5] 1 Chronicles 16:37–42; 25:1–7; 2 Chronicles 5:12; 35:15.

This series is based on a seminar paper for “Special Research in Church Music” at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary (May 1995).

See a Table of Contents for this series: Lessons from the Psalm Inscriptions

(Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version (ESV) ©2001 by Crossway)

A View of Immanuel’s Land

Then I saw in my dream, that on the morrow he got up to go forward; but they desired him to stay till the next day also; and then, said they, we will, if the day be clear, show you the Delectable Mountains, which, they said, would yet further add to his comfort, because they were nearer the desired haven than the place where at present he was; so he consented and stayed.

When the morning was up, they had him to the top of the house, and bid him look south; so he did: and behold, at a great distance, he saw a most pleasant mountainous country, beautified with woods, vineyards, fruits of all sorts, flowers also, with springs and fountains, very delectable to behold. Then he asked the name of the country. They said it was Immanuel’s Land; and it is as common, said they, as this hill is, to and for all the pilgrims. And when you come there from here, they said, you may see to the gate of the Celestial City, as the shepherds that live there will make appear.

When Christian awakes the next morning at Palace Beautiful, he prepares to continue on his journey. He had found refuge as night was approaching; had engaged in gospel conversations with Discretion, Piety, Prudence and Charity; had enjoyed a refreshing meal, peaceful rest, and needed instruction; and he had seen the provisions of the King for battle in the armory. Now, as he is ready to depart, he is once again encouraged to stay. There is yet more to see and more benefits to receive.

A View of Immanuel's LandChristian wisely consents and stays. The next day he is taken up to an observation point on the roof of the palace. There, as the day is clear, he sees at a great distance “a most pleasant mountainous country, beautified with woods, vineyards, fruits of all sorts, flowers also, with springs and fountains, very delectable to behold.” So what are these mountains that Bunyan vividly describes and how can they add to Christian’s comfort? As noted earlier, Palace Beautiful, Christian’s present location, represents the church from the vantage point of new believer who has not yet matured in faith. The Delectable Mountains that Christian sees in the distance (he will arrive at these mountains later in his journey), represent the church from the vantage point of a more mature believer.

The mountains are a fruitful and beautiful place. They are in Immanuel’s Land, meaning they belong to Christ, whose name is Immanuel, “God with Us” (Isaiah 7:17; Matthew 1:23). Later the shepherds will tell Christian that the Mountains are within sight of His city. It is in Immanuel’s Land where our hearts are filled with joy and delight in our King. We long to know Him and see Him and be with Him. Bunyan draws his imagery from Isaiah:

He will dwell on high;
His place of defense will be the fortress of rocks;
Bread will be given him,
His water will be sure.
Your eyes will see the King in His beauty;
They will see the land that is very far off.
(Isaiah 33:16-17)

The hymn The Sands of Time Are Sinking by Anne Ross Cousin based on the letters of Samuel Rutherford, offers a glorious depiction of this land. Here are but a few of the 19 verses of the hymn:

4. The King there in His beauty,
With-out a veil is seen:
It were a well-spent journey,
Though seven deaths lay between:
The Lamb, with His fair army,
Doth on Mount Zion stand;
And glory—glory dwelleth
In Immanuel’s land.

5. Oh! Christ He is the fountain,
The deep sweet well of Love!
The streams on earth I’ve tasted,
More deep I’ll drink above:
There, to an ocean fullness,
His mercy doth expand,
And glory—glory dwelleth
In Immanuel’s land.

17. The bride eyes not her garment,
But her dear Bridegroom’s face;
I will not gaze at glory,
But on my King of Grace—
Not at the crown He giveth,
But on His pierced hand:
The Lamb is all the glory
Of Immanuel’s land.

At Palace Beautiful Christian sees the beauty and lushness of the mountains, though he himself is still a great distance away. He is yet young in the faith, but can see the promise and hope of fruit ahead. One of the great advantages a new believer has in belonging to a healthy church is interaction with and encouragement from more mature believers. It is comforting to see the testimony of those who are walking with the Lord and have done so for many years. It is a blessing to see their fruitful lives and love for God.

There are some important lessons here for us as we enjoy the benefits of belonging to a local church.

1) When in the fellowship of God’s people, we should, as Christian did, consent and stay longer. We are too often eager to be on our way when it would be more profitable for us to linger awhile. Much of the ministry of the church takes place in personal encounters and conversations: words of encouragement, words of admonishment, praying together, sharing needs, meeting needs, taking time to invest in each others’ lives. We miss this when we pass by those around us and fail to connect with others.

2) We must learn to value and seek out those in the church who are older and more mature in the faith. They have much to offer. They are closer to their journey’s end. Their faith has been tested over time and has borne fruit. Their testimony can strengthen us. Their wisdom, counsel and prayers can help us. Their love for Christ can stir our own. We need older brothers and sisters in the faith who can disciple us and encourage us to continue on. They are an important part of God’ provision for us in the church as we progress in our pilgrimage.

Christian will soon learn the value of the vantage point he now has at Palace Beautiful. In a short time he will be languishing through valleys and dark places where the view is not pleasant or clear. He will need to remember the heights that lie before him and keep the glory of his King in view to encourage him to press on and not lose heart.

A Guide to John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress
See TOC for more posts from this commentary

The text for The Pilgrim’s Progress and images used are public domain
Notes and Commentary ©2014 Ken Puls
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the New King James Version (NKJV) ©1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc.

Into the Armory

The next day they took him and had him into the armory, where they showed him all manner of furniture, which their Lord had provided for pilgrims, as sword, shield, helmet, breastplate, ALL-PRAYER, and shoes that would not wear out. And there was here enough of this to harness out as many men for the service of their Lord as there be stars in the heaven for multitude.

They also showed him some of the engines with which some of his servants had done wonderful things. They showed him Moses’ rod; the hammer and nail with which Jael slew Sisera; the pitchers, trumpets, and lamps too, with which Gideon put to flight the armies of Midian. Then they showed him the ox’s goad wherewith Shamgar slew six hundred men. They showed him also the jaw-bone with which Samson did such mighty feats. They showed him, moreover, the sling and stone with which David slew Goliath of Gath; and the sword, also, with which their Lord will kill the Man of Sin, in the day that he shall rise up to the prey. They showed him, besides, many excellent things, with which Christian was much delighted. This done, they went to their rest again.

Armory at House BeautifulAs Christian continues his tour of Palace Beautiful, the family takes him into the armory. Here Christian sees vast weapons of warfare and notable armaments from past and future conflicts. Learning to wear the armor and wield the weapons provided by his Lord will be crucial for Christian to successfully complete his journey.

The presence of the armory at Palace Beautiful highlights an important reality. Living the Christian life is a battle. We must daily fight against temptation and sin. We have an enemy of our souls who desires to keep us from our intended destination. Christian learned this lesson earlier in his pilgrimage while he was at the House of the Interpreter. He was shown a Stately Palace and watched as a valiant man fought past enemies to gain entrance. Like the valiant man, we must resist the enemy, “fight the good fight of faith” and “lay hold of eternal life” (1 Timothy 6:12).

Christian saw something else in the lesson at the Interpreter’s House. The valiant man was equipped and prepared for battle. Before he rushed the door of the Stately Palace, he drew his Sword and put on his Helmet. Now at Palace Beautiful Christian sees how his King fits His servants for battle. We are not capable of resisting the enemy in our own strength and resources. On our own we will fail and fall. But God has provided in Christ all we need to fight this battle.

Bunyan’s description of our weapons for war points us again to the Word of God. In Ephesians 6 Paul explains the armor of God that we must put on to stand firm against sin and Satan.

Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand. Stand therefore, having girded your waist with truth, having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and having shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace; above all, taking the shield of faith with which you will be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked one. And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God; praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, being watchful to this end with all perseverance and supplication for all the saints—and for me, that utterance may be given to me, that I may open my mouth boldly to make known the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains; that in it I may speak boldly, as I ought to speak (Ephesians 6:10-20).

Paul draws these weapons of spiritual warfare from the Old Testament. He uses words and phrase from passages that speak of Christ, the coming Messiah and Redeemer. Paul helps us make an important connection: the armor we need to engage in spiritual warfare is Christ Himself.

The prophet Isaiah describes Jesus as “a Rod from the stem of Jesse” and “a Branch” that grows “out of his roots” (Isaiah 11:1). We read in 11:5 “Righteousness shall be the belt of His loins, and faithfulness the belt of His waist.”

In chapter 59 Isaiah testifies: “The Lord’s hand is not shortened that it cannot save” (59:1). When God sees the failings and sufferings of Israel, He Himself raises up a champion for justice and truth.

He saw that there was no man,
And wondered that there was no intercessor;
Therefore His own arm brought salvation for Him;
And His own righteousness, it sustained Him.
(Isaiah 59:16)

Isaiah describes how this Warrior is clothed:

For He put on righteousness as a breastplate,
And a helmet of salvation on His head;
He put on the garments of vengeance for clothing,
And was clad with zeal as a cloak.
(Isaiah 59:17)

There is a Redeemer who “will come to Zion” (59:20). This is the Redeemer we need. We need to put on His truth as our belt. We need dressed in His righteousness as our breastplate. We need His salvation as our helmet. We need faith in Him to shield and protect us. We need to devote ourselves to prayer in His name. We need to take up “the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God,” the very weapon the Savior used against the devil when he was tempted in the wilderness (Matthew 4:1–11). And we need feet prepared to carry His gospel to the ends of the earth.

How beautiful upon the mountains
Are the feet of him who brings good news,
Who proclaims peace,
Who brings glad tidings of good things,
Who proclaims salvation,
Who says to Zion,
“Your God reigns!”
(Isaiah 52:7)

The provisions that God has given us in Christ will never wear out or run short. There is no end to the supply of what we need to fight the spiritual battles of this life. There is an abundance to the strength and might of Christ in the gospel that will clad “as many men for the service of their Lord as there be stars in the heaven for multitude.”

In the armory Christian sees the testimony of God’s provision reaching back through history. He marvels at some of the unusual weapons supplied by God in the Old Testament. He sees the rod of Moses (Exodus 4:1-5, 17, 20; 7:8-12), the hammer and nail used by Jael to slay Sisera (Judges 4:21), the pitchers, trumpets and lamps used by Gideon to scatter the armies of Midian (Judges 7:19-22), the oxgoad used by Shamgar to kill six hundred men (Judges 3:31), the jaw-bone of a donkey used by Samson to kill a thousand men (Judges 15:15), and the sling and stone used by David to slay the giant Goliath of Gath (1 Samuel 17:40).

Christian also sees the sword by which the Lord will bring judgment upon the nations. The apostle John describes the scene in Revelation 19:

Now I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse. And He who sat on him was called Faithful and True, and in righteousness He judges and makes war. His eyes were like a flame of fire, and on His head were many crowns. He had a name written that no one knew except Himself. He was clothed with a robe dipped in blood, and His name is called The Word of God. And the armies in heaven, clothed in fine linen, white and clean, followed Him on white horses. Now out of His mouth goes a sharp sword, that with it He should strike the nations. And He Himself will rule them with a rod of iron. He Himself treads the winepress of the fierceness and wrath of Almighty God. And He has on His robe and on His thigh a name written: King of Kings and Lord of Lords (Revelation 19:11-16).

The armory underscores our need to be watchful and courageous in our pilgrimage. And it reminds us that we cannot and must not engage this battle in our own strength. We need the might and power only God can provide in Christ. Spiritual warfare calls for spiritual weapons.

For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds, casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:3-5).

We must fight this battle daily, walking in the light of the gospel and living together for Christ in the church.

But let us who are of the day be sober, putting on the breastplate of faith and love, and as a helmet the hope of salvation. For God did not appoint us to wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us, that whether we wake or sleep, we should live together with Him” (1 Thessalonians 5:8-10).

Christian will soon discover the value of the armaments supplied by His King. To reach his journey’s end, he must first descend into the Valley of Humiliation. There he will face his fiercest foe.

A Guide to John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress
See TOC for more posts from this commentary

The text for The Pilgrim’s Progress and images used are public domain
Notes and Commentary ©2014 Ken Puls
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the New King James Version (NKJV) ©1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc.

Instruction at Palace Beautiful

So in the morning they all got up; and, after some more discourse, they told him that he should not depart till they had shown him the rarities of that place. And first they had him into the study, where they showed him records of the greatest antiquity; in which, as I remember my dream, they showed him first the pedigree of the Lord of the hill, that He was the Son of the Ancient of Days, and came by that eternal generation. Here also was more fully recorded the acts that He had done, and the names of many hundreds that He had taken into his service; and how He had placed them in such habitations that could neither by length of days, nor decays of nature, be dissolved.

Then they read to him some of the worthy acts that some of His servants had done: as, how they had “subdued kingdoms, wrought righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, out of weakness were made strong, waxed valiant in fight, and turned to flight the armies of the aliens.”

They then read again, in another part of the records of the house, where it was showed how willing their Lord was to receive into His favor any, even any, though they in time past had offered great affronts to his person and proceedings. Here also were several other histories of many other famous things, of all which Christian had a view; as of things both ancient and modern; together with prophecies and predictions of things that have their certain accomplishment, both to the dread and amazement of enemies, and the comfort and solace of pilgrims.

Instruction at Palace BeautifulAfter a restful night in the chamber of Peace, Christian awakes to discover more of the joys of Palace Beautiful. Before Christian departs to continue his journey, the members of the household desire him to see “the rarities of that place” (the valuables and treasures of the house). They take him first into the study. The study represents the preaching and teaching ministry of the church and the “records of the greatest antiquity” are the Word of God.

Scripture is a true treasure to pilgrims.

I rejoice at Your word
As one who finds great treasure.
(Psalm 119:162)

The study of Scripture is vital to the life of a pilgrim. Christian learned this lesson earlier in his pilgrimage when he spent time at the House of the Interpreter (Bunyan’s depiction of the Bible and the Spirit’s work to illumine the Bible to our understanding). At the Interpreter’s House Christian was also encouraged to stay longer and not depart until he had seen and learned valuable lessons that would serve him on his journey.

In the study at Palace Beautiful Christian sits under the instruction of God’s Word. He hears the message of the gospel: who Jesus is, what He has done, and why that matters.

Jesus is the Son of the Ancient of Days, a reference to Daniel 7:

I was watching in the night visions,
And behold, One like the Son of Man,
Coming with the clouds of heaven!
He came to the Ancient of Days,
And they brought Him near before Him.
(Daniel 7:13)

He is the only begotten of the Father, who has come to rescue sinners from death and give them everlasting life.

For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life (John 3:16).

In Christ God has “qualified us to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in the light” (Colossians 1:12). In Christ “we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins” (Colossians 1:13).

It is Christ who is preeminent in all things and Head of the church.

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For by Him all things were created that are in heaven and that are on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers. All things were created through Him and for Him. And He is before all things, and in Him all things consist. And He is the head of the body, the church, who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in all things He may have the preeminence (Colossians 1:15-18).

As the instruction at Palace Beautiful continues, the family reads from the book of Hebrews. Christian is comforted by the testimonies of God’s people who walked by faith and believed God’s Word.

And what more shall I say? For the time would fail me to tell of Gideon and Barak and Samson and Jephthah, also of David and Samuel and the prophets: who through faith subdued kingdoms, worked righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, out of weakness were made strong, became valiant in battle, turned to flight the armies of the aliens. Women received their dead raised to life again. Others were tortured, not accepting deliverance, that they might obtain a better resurrection. Still others had trial of mockings and scourgings, yes, and of chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, were tempted, were slain with the sword. They wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, tormented—of whom the world was not worthy. They wandered in deserts and mountains, in dens and caves of the earth (Hebrews 11:32-38).

And Christian hears again the marvelous invitation of the gospel. God has grace and mercy for sinners because of Christ.

For when we were still without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly. For scarcely for a righteous man will one die; yet perhaps for a good man someone would even dare to die. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him. For if when we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life. And not only that, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received the reconciliation (Romans 5:6-11).

Jesus welcomes and is willing to receive all who come to Him for life and forgiveness!

All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will by no means cast out (John 6:37).

This is the good news of the gospel. God has grace in abundance. The Gospel of grace in Christ Jesus is the treasure cherished at Palace Beautiful. It is the message of hope and salvation we proclaim. The Gospel is a unique treasure. We are made richer by sharing it. May we ever walk in its light by faith and freely share it with all who will hear and come.

A Guide to John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress
See TOC for more posts from this commentary

The text for The Pilgrim’s Progress and images used are public domain
Notes and Commentary ©2014 Ken Puls
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the New King James Version (NKJV) ©1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc.

Lessons from the Psalm Inscriptions: Introduction

To the Chief Musician

Lessons from the Psalm Inscriptions
In Leading God’s People in Prayer and Praise

Introduction: Why Consider the Psalm Inscriptions?

The psalms are a rich source of devotion and worship. Throughout history they have taught God’s people how to sing and pray and praise. They lifted the voice of Israel in worship through the Old Testament, comprising the songbook of the Temple. The psalms spoke of Christ and prepared the way for His coming (Luke 24:44). They are mentioned first among the music of the church in the New Testament (Ephesians 5:19, Colossians 3:16). We are exhorted to sing them in light of their full expression and fulfillment in Christ. The psalms teach us how and what to sing, as our hearts are drawn out and our affections are raised in the presence and power of God. They are a treasure for the Christian and we should turn to them often.

Many of the psalms include inscriptions, headings that appear at the beginning, added when the Psalter was complied and the psalms were ordered for use in worship in the Temple. The Book of Psalms is divided into five sections, each ending with a doxology: I (1-41), II (42-72), III (73-89), IV (90-106), V (107-150). [1] The majority of the psalm titles appear in the first two books as indicated in the following table:

Psalms Titles Chart

As noted in the table above, some of the psalms have more than one inscription. In the entirety of the 150 Psalms there are a total of 337 inscriptions attached to the beginning of 116 of the psalms. Many of the headings were likely fixed to the psalms by the authors. Others may have been added at a later time as the psalms were gathered into collections and finally put into their present form. The headings were attached to the individual psalms to add explanation and clarity as the psalms became part of the corporate worship of Israel. These inscriptions offer insight as we sing the psalms and embrace them as our own expressions of worship.

Unfortunately the psalm inscriptions tend to be overlooked in the study of the psalms. The rich theological content and poetic beauty in the psalms themselves have held the interest of scholars and theologians, but the headings are often subject to mere cursory mentions.

There are several possible reasons for this:

  1. The inscriptions are considered to be secondary additions to the psalms and of limited value.
  2. The inscriptions focus more on musical matters and are of less interest to theologians and commentators than the rich texts of the psalms themselves.
  3. The inscriptions remain the subject of a wide array of speculation.

The meanings of some of the terms and phrases found in the inscriptions are uncertain and elusive. Some of the mystery surrounding the inscriptions lies in a loss of knowledge of the practice and performance of music in the Temple. Even by the 3rd century BC, when the Septuagint (LXX) [2], the Greek translation of the Old Testament, was made, the titles were already regarded as ancient and many of the terms found in the titles were not understood. Some of the translations supplied by the LXX appear arbitrary and misinformed. Commentator Peter Craigie suggests that the poor translations of the psalm headings may “indicate a lack of musical or liturgical knowledge on the part of the translators, or the lack of equivalent or appropriate terminology in the Greek language.” [3] According to Idelsohn this lack of knowledge was exacerbated by the loss of the Temple in Jerusalem.

A short time after the destruction of the Temple the entire art of the instrumental music of the Levites fell into oblivion; and two generations later the sages lost all technical knowledge and all sense of the reality of that silenced music. [4]

Lack of musical knowledge has led some commentators to embrace many untenable theories concerning the meaning of the terms. Speaking of the commentators, Alfred Sendrey comments:

Whenever they were guided mainly by musical considerations, they were able, in most cases, to offer natural as well as logical interpretations. In other instances, they were bound to lose themselves in fruitless speculations, which necessarily ended in a blind alley. [5]

Though the precise meaning of many of the inscriptions remains a mystery, they are still a valuable aid in understanding the psalms. The psalm titles are part of the canon of Scripture. In the Hebrew (Masoretic) text they are included in (or as) the first verse of each psalm which has a title. They are therefore a part of God’s revelation and to some degree profitable for the people of God, especially to those concerned with serving God through music.

This series of posts will explore the psalm inscriptions under five categories.

I. DESIGNATION: Those titles using the Hebrew preposition לֹ lamed.  They can denote the author(s) of the psalm, the recipient(s) of the psalm, to whom the psalm is dedicated, or possibly whom the psalm is about.

II. DESCRIPTION: Titles that state the type of poetic genre or musical composition. [psalm, maschil, song, praise, prayer, testimony, michtam]

III. EXPLANATION: Titles that provide a historical connection for the psalm. They relate the circumstances surrounding the composition of the psalm.

IV. APPLICATION: Titles that indicate the liturgical, devotional or didactic use of the psalm. [For the Sabbath Day, To Bring Remembrance, Of the Ascents]

V. INTERPRETATION: Titles that explain how the psalm should be musically interpreted or performed. [On Flutes, With Stringed Instruments]

[Download a PDF list of Psalm Inscriptions highlighted by category]

The psalm inscriptions present an intriguing study for musicians and worship leaders. As we survey the inscriptions in upcoming posts, we will aim to answer three basic questions:

What do the inscriptions reveal about the use of poetry and music in the life and worship practices of ancient Israel?

Do the inscriptions have relevance for worship practices today?

What can the inscriptions teach us, especially in regard to composing, arranging and planning music for worship?

Notes:

[1] The Doxologies are found in 41:13, 72:18-19, 89:52, 106:48, and 150:1-6.
[2] The LXX was widely used during the time of Christ and is often quoted in the New Testament
[3] Peter C. Craigie, Psalm 1-50, Word Biblical Commentary, eds. David A. Hubbard, et al., vol. 19 (Waco, Texas: Word Books, 1983), 33.
[4] Abraham Z. Idelsohn, Jewish Music: Its Historical Development (New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1929; reprint, New York: Dover Publications, 1992), 19.
[5] Alfred Sendrey, Music in Ancient Israel (New York: Philosophical Library, Inc., 1969), 137. For a more thorough survey of suggested meanings for the psalm titles, see, 93-158.

This series is based on a seminar paper for “Special Research in Church Music” at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary (May 1995).

See a Table of Contents for this series: Lessons from the Psalm Inscriptions

(Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version (ESV) ©2001 by Crossway)

Rest at Palace Beautiful

Thus they discoursed together till late at night; and after they had committed themselves to their Lord for protection, they betook themselves to rest. The Pilgrim they laid in a large upper chamber, whose window opened towards the sun-rising. The name of the chamber was Peace; where he slept till break of day, and then he awoke and sang:

“Where am I now? Is this the love and care
Of Jesus for the men that pilgrims are?
Thus to provide! That I should be forgiven!
And dwell already the next door to heaven!”

Following supper, Christian continues the conversation with the family at Palace Beautiful until late in the evening. The opportunities we have to fellowship with brothers and sisters in Christ are precious and valuable. We should not rush through them or take them for granted, but savor the time we have together.

As the family prepares to sleep, they trust themselves to the Lord.

I will both lie down in peace, and sleep;
For You alone, O LORD, make me dwell in safety.
(Psalm 4:8)

I lay down and slept;
I awoke, for the LORD sustained me.
(Psalm 3:5)

Window of PeaceThe spacious upper chamber where Christian finds rest represents Christ. Its window opens to the rising sun. Jesus is the “sun of righteousness” who rises “with healing in its wings” (Malachi 4:2). He is the light of the world (Isaiah 60:1; John 8:12), the Dayspring who gives “light to those who sit in darkness” (Luke 1:78-79, Isaiah 9:2).

Christian’s bedchamber is called “Peace.”

You will keep him in perfect peace,
Whose mind is stayed on You,
Because he trusts in You.
(Isaiah 26:3)

Jesus is the “Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6). In Him we find rest for our souls; He tells us:

Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls (Matthew 11:28-29).

Peace is a gift of Christ (John 14:27) and a fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22). And peace is a hallmark of Christ’s church. Most of the letters in the New Testament, written to encourage and instruct the churches, begin with a reference to peace: Romans 1:7; 1 Corinthians 1:3; 2 Corinthians 1:2; Galatians 1:3; Ephesians 1:2; Philippians 1:2; Colossians 1:2; 1 Thessalonians 1:1; 2 Thessalonians 1:2; 1 Timothy 1:2; 2 Timothy 1:2; Titus 1:4; Philemon 3; 1 Peter 1:2; 2 Peter 1:2; 2 John 3; Jude 2; Revelation 1:4.

Paul exhorts us, as we fellowship and walk together in the church, to endeavor “to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:3). The peace and unity we share in household of God is a demonstration of the power of gospel. It is a miracle of grace that God can take diverse and sinful people and make us one in Christ. It is Jesus Himself who is our peace, who rescues us from sin and selfishness and unites us together as His people for His glory. Paul explains:

But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For He Himself is our peace, who has made both one, and has broken down the middle wall of separation, having abolished in His flesh the enmity, that is, the law of commandments contained in ordinances, so as to create in Himself one new man from the two, thus making peace, and that He might reconcile them both to God in one body through the cross, thereby putting to death the enmity. And He came and preached peace to you who were afar off and to those who were near. For through Him we both have access by one Spirit to the Father (Ephesians 2:13-18).

It is Jesus who cares and loves us. He is our Savior and Redeemer. It is He who brings us near to God and near to one another in the family of God. As with Christian in Bunyan’s story, this truth should stir our hearts with joy and song.

A Guide to John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress
See TOC for more posts from this commentary

The text for The Pilgrim’s Progress and images used are public domain
Notes and Commentary ©2014 Ken Puls
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the New King James Version (NKJV) ©1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc.

Music and Resources for Worship