Tag Archives: Prayer

Teach Me O Lord Thy Way of Truth

Open God's Word

If we are to know truth, we must abide in God’s Word. If we are to follow Christ, who is “the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6), we must know and obey God’s Word. Jesus said, “If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed. And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free” (John 8:31–32).

But truth is not something we can comprehend on our own. One thing we must always do when we open God’s Word, is pray that His Spirit would illumine our understanding and help us rightly apply truth. Paul reminds us in 1 Corinthians 2:14 that without the Spirit, we cannot understand the Word. To those who are dead in sin and have no spiritual life, the truth of God’s Word, in fact, appears to be foolishness. Any time we read the Bible, or hear it taught and preached, we should pray that God would teach us, give us understanding, and help us walk in truth.

This is how God instructs us to pray in His Word. The book of Psalms serves as the Bible’s inspired songbook, providing us divinely prescribed instruction on how we must sing and pray and worship the Lord. In Psalm 119:33–40 the psalmist prays:

Teach me, O Lord, the way of Your statutes,
And I shall keep it to the end.
Give me understanding, and I shall keep Your law;
Indeed, I shall observe it with my whole heart.
Make me walk in the path of Your commandments,
For I delight in it.
Incline my heart to Your testimonies,
And not to covetousness.
Turn away my eyes from looking at worthless things,
And revive me in Your way.
Establish Your word to Your servant,
Who is devoted to fearing You.
Turn away my reproach which I dread,
For Your judgments are good.
Behold, I long for Your precepts;
Revive me in Your righteousness.
(Psalm 119:33–40, NKJV)

The following setting of this portion of Psalm 119 is from The Psalter, 1912. Take time to read (and sing) the words. And make this your prayer as you look to God’s Word and seek to walk in its light.

Teach Me O Lord Thy Way of Truth

“Teach me, O Lord, the way of Your statutes,
And I shall keep it to the end” (Psalm 119:33).

  1. Teach me O Lord Thy way of truth,
    And from it I will not depart;
    That I may steadfastly obey,
    Give me an understanding heart.
  2. In Thy commandments make me walk,
    For in Thy law my joy shall be;
    Give me a heart that loves Thy will,
    From discontent and envy free.
  3. Turn Thou mine eyes from vanity,
    And cause me in Thy ways to tread;
    O let Thy servant prove Thy Word,
    And thus to godly fear be led.
  4. Turn Thou away reproach and fear;
    Thy righteous judgments I confess;
    To know Thy precepts I desire;
    Revive me in Thy righteousness.

“Teach Me O Lord Thy Way of Truth”
Words from Psalm 119:33–40, The Psalter, 1912
Tune: CROSLAND (L.M.)
Music by Tom Wells, 2001
Words ©Public Domain
Music ©2001 Tom Wells (Used by Permission)

Tom Wells (Heritage Baptist Church in Mansfield, Texas) composed an excellent tune for this setting of Psalm 119:33–40. Download free sheet music (PDF), including a guitar chord chart, an arrangement of the hymn tune CROSLAND for classical guitar.

More Hymns from History

More hymns arranged for Classical Guitar

 

O How Blest the Hour

Church and Clock Tower

We enjoy many wonderful blessings when we gather with the church for worship. Together, we lift up our prayers, sing God’s praise, and hear God’s Word. Yet we can too easily miss these blessings, even when we are present with God’s people. We can say and sing words with our lips—and fail to draw near to Christ in our hearts. We can hear the Word of God read and preached—and thoughtlessly assume we know what is being said. We can take worship for granted and fail to appreciate its wonder and delight.

The hymn, O How Blest the Hour by the Lutheran hymn-writer Carl Johann Philipp Spitta (1801–1859), is a prayer that we not miss the wonder and delight of worship. It was first published in Leipzig in 1843 under the Scripture text John 6:68 with the title “Thou hast the words of Eternal Life” (John Julian, Dictionary of Hymnology, 2:1078). The opening line in German is “O wie freun wir uns der Stunde” (O how we joyfully look forward to the hour). Richard Massie included a translation of the hymn in English in the second volume of his Lyra Domestica (1864).

The hymn anticipates the joy of drawing near to Christ and being together with the church in worship. It expresses our desire to hear God’s Word and asks that God be at work as we listen—that we would “not hear in vain” but He would impress its truths to our hearts and minds and help us walk in obedience.

Below are the words and link to the hymn set to a tune composed by Tom Wells. My thanks again to Tom for his permission to share and make his tunes available.

O How Blest the Hour

“But Simon Peter answered Him, ‘Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life’” (John 6:68).

O How blest the hour, Lord Jesus,
When we can to Thee draw near,
Promises so sweet and precious
From Thy gracious lips to hear!

Be with us this day to bless us,
That we may not hear in vain;
While Thy saving truths impress us,
Which the words of life contain.

Open Thou our minds and lead us
Safely on our heav’nward way;
While the lamp of Truth precedes us,
That we might not go astray.

Lord, endue Thy Word from heaven
With such light and love and pow’r,
That in us its silent leaven
May work on from hour to hour.

Give us grace to bear our witness
To the truths we have embraced;
And let others both their sweetness
And their quick’ning virtue taste.

“O How Blest the Hour”
Words by Carl Johann Philipp Spitta (1801–1859)
Translated by Richard Massie, 1800–1887
Music by Tom Wells, 2002
Words ©Public Domain
Music ©2002 Tom Wells (Used by Permission)

Download free sheet music (PDF), including guitar chord charts and an arrangement of the hymn tune HARRISON for classical guitar.

More Hymns from History

More hymns arranged for Classical Guitar

 

Behold the Throne of Grace

Because of Christ, we have every reason to pray in faith and hope! Because Christ, our Great High Priest has sprinkled the Mercy Seat with His own shed blood, we can now come boldly to the throne of grace and lay hold of mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

Seeing then that we have a great High Priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need (Hebrews 4:14–16, NKJV).

In Christ we have full access to the Father! We are forgiven and redeemed. We are loved and accepted. We have the full measure of God’s embrace. He has given us Christ! What then will He withhold?

What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things? (Romans 8:31–32)

John Newton’s hymn “Behold the Throne of Grace” celebrates the promise we have of bold access to the presence of God in Christ. It encourages us to remember the promise and preach it to our own souls. In Christ God freely gives us all things, not so we can obtain and cling to “the world’s poor toys” but so we can have and cling to Christ, who is our greatest need and ultimate joy.

The hymn is from Book 1 (“On Selected Texts of Scripture”) of the Olney Hymns published in 1779 by John Newton and William Cowper. It is included along with two other hymns under the Scripture text: “Ask what I shall give thee” (1 Kings 3:5).

Prayer and Watchfulness

Behold the Throne of Grace

Behold the throne of grace,
The promise calls us near,
There Jesus shows a smiling face
And waits to answer prayer.

That rich atoning blood,
Which sprinkled round we see,
Provides for those who come to God
An all prevailing plea.

My soul, ask what thou wilt,
Thou canst not be too bold;
Since His own blood for thee He spilt,
What else can He withhold?

Beyond thy utmost wants
His love and pow’r can bless;
To praying souls He always grants,
More than they can express.

Since ’tis the Lord’s command,
My mouth I open wide;
Lord open Thou Thy bounteous hand,
That I may be supplied.

Thine image, Lord, bestow,
Thy presence and Thy love;
I ask to serve Thee here below,
And reign with Thee above.

Teach me to live by faith,
Conform my will to Thine;
Let me victorious be in death,
And then in glory shine.

If Thou these blessings give,
And wilt my portion be;
Cheerful the world’s poor toys I leave,
To them who know not Thee.

Amen.

“Behold the Throne of Grace”
Words by John Newton (1779)
Tune: STATE STREET
Music by Jonathan Woodman, 1844
Words and Music ©Public Domain

Download free sheet music (PDF), including a guitar chord charts and arrangements of the hymn tune STATE STREET for classical guitar and for instrumental ensemble.

More Hymns from History

More Hymns arranged for Classical Guitar

Increase Our Faith O Lord

Too often we become discouraged and infrequent in our prayers because we focus on our troubles rather than the power of God and the promises in His Word. We don’t know God as we should, we don’t think of Him as we should, and so we fail to trust Him as we should. We don’t cry out to Him as we should in prayer and praise.

This hymn is the fruit of a study on prayer from a prayer meeting at Grace Baptist Church in Cape Coral, FL, taught by our Associate Pastor, Jared Longshore. It is an exhortation to pray and look to God in faith. And it is a prayer that God would stir up faith in us that we would be quick to remember Him and seek Him.

Increase Our Faith O Lord

“… for assuredly, I say to you, if you have faith as a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move;  and nothing will be impossible for you” (Matthew 17:20).

Increase our faith, O Lord!
We look to You today.
Remind us of Your Word and pow’r,
Come stir our hearts to pray.

Look down on us in love,
Draw near us in this place.
With confidence, we come in Christ
To seek the throne of grace.

Because we do not ask,
We often lack what’s good.
If we would only look to God
And trust Him as we should!

Our faith, it seems so small,
Yet You, Lord, are so great!
So help us bring petitions large,
In You we trust and wait.

If we but had the faith,
Small as a mustard seed,
Then we would see the mountains move
For God has power indeed.

There’s nothing that’s too hard,
No good thing He’ll withhold.
So let us bring our prayers in faith,
We cannot be too bold.

Look down with mercy, Lord
And hear the prayers we raise,
That we might see Your power displayed
And offer thanks and praise.

Words ©2017 Ken Puls

Download the lyrics and free sheet music for this hymn, including an arrangement of the tune HOLY ROOD for classical guitar.

More Hymns and Songs from Ken Puls Music

The Posture of Worship (Part 2)

Raised Hands

Last time in our series on worship, we began a study on what the Bible says about posture in worship.

So why is posture important? Why all the verses?

Why, in a day when we are called upon to worship God in Spirit and in truth, should we be concerned about our outward expressions of worship?

In our time together this evening I want to answer these questions.  We will first discuss the importance of posture and then conclude with a right perspective on posture.

I. The importance of posture in worship

1. God made us to be both body and soul.

And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being (Genesis 2:7).

God created our bodies, as well as our souls. He made us of dust and breathed life in us. He made us to enjoy Him, not only in our souls, but in our bodies as well. He demands our obedience, not only in our hearts, but lived out in our bodies as well.

Paul refers to our bodies as the temple of the Holy Spirit.

Or do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own? For you were bought at a price; therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God’s (1 Corinthians 6:19–20).

God made our bodies to glorify Him. Paul exhorted the church:

I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service (Romans 12:1).

He desired that Christ be exalted in his own life lived out to God’s glory.

For I know that this will turn out for my deliverance through your prayer and the supply of the Spirit of Jesus Christ, according to my earnest expectation and hope that in nothing I shall be ashamed, but with all boldness, as always, so now also Christ will be magnified in my body, whether by life or by death (Philippians 1:19–20).

We cannot separate body and soul. God has created us and wired us to be complete beings. What we do with the body affects the soul. What goes on in the soul is made manifest and expresses itself in the body.

Corporate worship of necessity involves the body.

  • We speak God’s Word.
  • We voice our prayers.
  • We sing with our lips.
  • We place our gifts and tithes in the offering plate.
  • We eat and drink at the Lord’s Table.

When we worship God, we worship Him in our bodies.

Oh, but some might say, “God is Spirit.” And we are to worship Him in Spirit and in truth. God is concerned with my heart and so what I do with my body is of little or no consequence.

It is true that we are to worship God in Spirit and in truth. But God informs us in His Word that He has given His Sprit to make us alive—in our bodies. His indwelling presence has made our bodies temples of worship. We are living sacrifices, dead to sin but alive unto Christ.

We cannot escape our bodies if we are to participate in the elements of worship. We can get into trouble and become imbalanced we disengage our body and soul. This can happen two ways.

  1. We become so withdrawn or introspective that we no longer value what is happening around us—or concern ourselves with how we are reacting to what is happening around us. We think that we can hold our faith on the inside—in the domain of the heart—without caring that it ever shows on the outside.
  2. We become so extroverted that we content ourselves with just going through the bodily motions and we disengage the heart. We think God will be pleased with our outward show of faith without caring that we really mean it on the inside.

Both of these dangers lead us down the road of hypocrisy. When God truly pierces us with His Word, it affects body and soul!

Truth rightly understood in the heart—on the inside—will compel us to live out truth and rightly apply it—on the outside.

Worship begins in the heart—in the mind (focusing and directing our thoughts), then the will (determining our actions), and our emotions (flooding and spilling out into our feelings). As the truth of God’s Word dawns in our thinking by the illuminating power of the Spirit, we are brought to sorrow and repentance over our sin—we are brought to joy and faith in the salvation and forgiveness of sin found in Christ. And we are spurred into action and obedience as the reality of God’s work on the inside is expressed and lived out on the outside.

We need truth, but we need the Spirit to quicken us and make that truth alive and active in our hearts and in our lives. Truth is not just for the mind—it is for the whole of our being.

For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart (Hebrews 4:12).

Truth has implications and demands on our hands and feet as well as our minds and intellect.

Known truth must be practiced truth. Doctrine must find its way to devotion.

[This excerpt is from a sermon entitled “The Posture of Worship (Part 2)” in the series Thoughts on Worship. Continue reading the full sermon text here.]

Read also “The Posture of Worship (Part 1)”

See more Sermons and Articles by Ken Puls

The Posture of Worship (Part 1)

Lift up the hands

The Bible has much to say about our posture in worship. This can be seen in two specific points:

I. The meanings of the two words, translated most often in Scripture as “worship” in both the Old and New Testament, refer to posture.

The Hebrew verb shacah in the Old Testament means to become low or to bow down as an act of reverence. It depicts a physical act that symbolizes what we do when we worship—showing reverence to God, acknowledging Him as the Most High, humbling ourselves, making ourselves low—in His presence. The term describes the worship of Israel at the dedication of Solomon’s Temple:

When Solomon had finished praying, fire came down from heaven and consumed the burnt offering and the sacrifices; and the glory of the Lord filled the temple. And the priests could not enter the house of the Lord, because the glory of the Lord had filled the Lord’s house. When all the children of Israel saw how the fire came down, and the glory of the Lord on the temple, they bowed their faces to the ground on the pavement, and worshiped and praised the Lord, saying: “For He is good, for His mercy endures forever” (2 Chronicles 7:1-3).

And in the psalms:

Oh come, let us worship and bow down;
Let us kneel before the LORD our Maker.
(Psalms 95:6)

In the New Testament proskuneo is the Greek term most often translated “worship.” It has a similar meaning: to bow down, become low or kiss toward.

It is the verb used when the wisemen came to Bethlehem to see Jesus after seeing His star in the East.

And when they had come into the house, they saw the young Child with Mary His mother, and fell down and worshiped Him. And when they had opened their treasures, they presented gifts to Him: gold, frankincense, and myrrh (Matthew 2:11).

This is the term used in Matthew 4 when Satan tempted Jesus:

And he said to Him, “All these things I will give You if You will fall down and worship me.” Then Jesus said to him, “Away with you, Satan! For it is written, ‘You shall worship the LORD your God, and Him only you shall serve’” (Matthew 4:9–10).

It is the verb used after the resurrection when Jesus greets the women near the empty tomb:

And as they went to tell His disciples, behold, Jesus met them, saying, “Rejoice!” So they came and held Him by the feet and worshiped Him (Matthew 28:9).

And before His ascension into heaven when His disciples worshipped Him:

Then the eleven disciples went away into Galilee, to the mountain which Jesus had appointed for them. When they saw Him, they worshiped Him; but some doubted (Matthew 28:16–17).

It describes the worship of the church on earth. Paul speaks of an unbeliever coming into a worship service and being convinced that God is truly present. He says of the unbeliever:

And thus the secrets of his heart are revealed; and so, falling down on his face, he will worship God and report that God is truly among you (1 Corinthians 14:25).

This is a physical expression of worship—not just bowing down to God in the heart, but bowing down with the body.

Proskuneo describes the worship in heaven as well:

The twenty-four elders fall down before Him who sits on the throne and worship Him who lives forever and ever, and cast their crowns before the throne (Revelation 4:10).

It is the word (both noun and verb) used five times in John 4:20–24 where Jesus teaches:

But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for the Father is seeking such to worship Him. God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.”

Some have interpreted Jesus’ words here to mean that God is only concerned about our spirit in worship—only interested in what is happening on the inside—the externals are of no importance or consequence.

I submit to you that this is a misinterpretation of these verses. Jesus was not teaching here that the body no longer mattered. He was teaching that our worship must be alive in the power of the Spirit and informed and in submission to the authority of His Word.

Truth must first be received and understood and grasped by the heart, but when truth grips us—when it really matters to us—when it really affects us—it will be borne out—visibly displayed—made apparent and lived out in our bodies.

What does it look like when we worship God? What should it look like? What affect should truth have on our physical expression—on our countenance—if we really get it? When we look into God’s Word, we see that He has much to say concerning our posture and expression in worship. He is concerned not only with what we are communicating directly to Him on the inside in our hearts—but also what we are communicating on the outside to those around us.

God alone is worthy of our worship. He alone is Most High. And we are to express our worship to Him in both body and heart. So how then can we know what is appropriate and fitting as we physically express our devotion to God in worship? Here the Scripture gives us a wealth of information.

[This excerpt is from a sermon entitled “The Posture of Worship (Part 1)” in the series Thoughts on Worship. You can read the full sermon text here.]

See more Sermons and Articles by Ken Puls

A Crescendo of Praise

Crescendo Wave

The LORD reigns, let the earth rejoice;
let the many coastlands be glad!
(Psalm 97:1)

True worship is centered on God. We see this in Psalm 97 from the very first verse. We are to be glad and rejoice. Our God reigns! Our Lord is Sovereign over all. This knowledge should season every thought and flavor every prayer!

Notice that Psalm 97 begins with praise. The psalmist lifts his voice with confidence and joy starting with the very first verse. Not all the psalms begin this way. Many open with cries of distress or sorrow. The psalmist is afflicted, persecuted, facing suffering or weighed down by trials. In these circumstances, as the psalmist pours out his heart before God, you will find petitions, prayers and laments. But as you read the psalms, you will also discover that the focus doesn’t remain on the problems and difficulties and trials. Over and over throughout the psalms, the concern of the psalmist turns from his petitions and laments to God’s glory and praise.

Look, for example at Psalm 13. David begins the psalm in desperation:

How long, O LORD? Will you forget me forever?
How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I take counsel in my soul
and have sorrow in my heart all the day?
How long shall my enemy be exalted over me?
Consider and answer me, O LORD my God;
light up my eyes, lest I sleep the sleep of death,
lest my enemy say, “I have prevailed over him,”
lest my foes rejoice because I am shaken.
(Psalms 13:1-4)

But then David turns his thoughts to God’s love and there is a noticeable shift:

But I have trusted in your steadfast love;
my heart shall rejoice in your salvation.
I will sing to the LORD,
because he has dealt bountifully with me.
(Psalms 13:5-6)

Do you see the change in David’s focus as the psalm begins compared to how the psalm ends? As he meditates and remembers the God to whom he is praying, his heart is turned from sorrow to praise!

In fact, if you read through the entire book of Psalms, you will see a noticeable shift in its content. Early in the Psalter you find many petitions and laments, but as you grow closer to the end of the book, the petitions and laments grow fewer and fewer until from Psalm 145 to the end there is pure praise. The Psalms culminate in a crescendo of praise that builds to the last verse (Psalm 150:6) and resounds in the final command: “let everything that has breath praise the Lord!”

The Book of Psalms begins with a blessing. Psalm 1 tells us that we are blessed when we turn away from sin and evil, and we delight in the Law of God and meditate upon His Word day and night. Those who know God—know His name, His character, His promises, His salvation—those who delight in Him will be:

… like a tree
planted by streams of water
that yields its fruit in its season,
and its leaf does not wither.
In all that he does, he prospers.
(Psalms 1:3)

The remainder of the Book of Psalms is a glorious testimony that this promise is true. In every distress and storm where the psalmist feared that he would wither or fall, when the psalmist looked to God and trusted in God and clung to God’s revelation of His character and promises and will, when he was confident that God would accomplish His purposes, then his focus turned from petition and lament to praise and rejoicing.

This is why Psalms is called in Hebrew a Book of Praises (Sepher Tehillium).

This has great implications for our worship today. If our desire is to have worship that honors God and enriches, encourages, and nourishes our souls, our greatest need to stop focusing on ourselves and remember God.

Think of this when we gather together for worship on the Lord’s Day. Think of this when we come together for prayer on Wednesday nights. As you voice your concerns and share your heart, honestly confess your difficulties and struggles, tell God your sorrows and troubles, but don’t stay there! Look to God! Our God reigns! Let your words dwell upon Him!

[This excerpt is from a sermon on Psalm 97 entitled “The God We Worship.” You can read the full sermon text here.]

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Christian Confounded

About the midst of this valley, I perceived the mouth of hell to be, and it stood also hard by the wayside. Now, thought Christian, what shall I do? And ever and anon the flame and smoke would come out in such abundance, with sparks and hideous noises, (things that cared not for Christian’s sword, as did Apollyon before), that he was forced to put up his sword, and betake himself to another weapon called All-prayer. So he cried in my hearing, “O Lord, I beseech thee, deliver my soul!” Thus he went on a great while, yet still the flames would be reaching towards him. Also he heard doleful voices, and rushings to and fro, so that sometimes he thought he should be torn in pieces, or trodden down like mire in the streets. This frightful sight was seen, and these dreadful noises were heard by him for several miles together; and, coming to a place where he thought he heard a company of fiends coming forward to meet him, he stopped, and began to muse what he had best to do. Sometimes he had half a thought to go back; then again he thought he might be half way through the valley; he remembered also how he had already vanquished many a danger, and that the danger of going back might be much more than for to go forward; so he resolved to go on. Yet the fiends seemed to come nearer and nearer; but when they were come even almost at him, he cried out with a most vehement voice, “I will walk in the strength of the Lord God!” so they gave back, and came no further.

One thing I would not let slip. I took notice that now poor Christian was so confounded, that he did not know his own voice; and thus I perceived it. Just when he was come over against the mouth of the burning pit, one of the wicked ones got behind him, and stepped up softly to him, and whisperingly suggested many grievous blasphemies to him, which he verily thought had proceeded from his own mind. This put Christian more to it than anything that he met with before, even to think that he should now blaspheme him that he loved so much before; yet, if he could have helped it, he would not have done it; but he had not the discretion either to stop his ears, or to know from whence these blasphemies came.

When Christian had traveled in this disconsolate condition some considerable time, he thought he heard the voice of a man, as going before him, saying, “Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for thou art with me.”

Then he was glad, and that for these reasons:

First, Because he gathered from thence, that some who feared God were in this valley as well as himself.

Secondly, For that he perceived God was with them, though in that dark and dismal state; and why not, thought he, with me? though, by reason of the impediment that attends this place, I cannot perceive it.

Thirdly, For that he hoped, could he overtake them, to have company by and by. So he went on, and called to him that was before; but he knew not what to answer; for that he also thought to be alone.

Christian ConfoundedAs Christian continues his dark journey through the Valley of the Shadow of Death, his trouble only deepens. When he reaches the middle of the valley he comes near the mouth of hell and here he is tormented with voices of terror and temptation. He feels threatened and senses that both fiends (alluring him into sin) and flames (threatening him with judgment) are coming after him.
Christian is so confounded that he is no longer able to wield his sword. There is nothing identifiable in his thinking upon which he can bring truth to bear. And so he turns to another weapon of spiritual warfare: All-Prayer.

… praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, being watchful to this end with all perseverance and supplication for all the saints (Ephesians 6:18).

He cries out to the Lord with the words of Psalm 116:4

Then I called upon the name of the LORD:
“O LORD, I implore You, deliver my soul!”
(Psalm 116:4)

Oppression so overwhelms him that he finds himself perplexed and unsure how to proceed. He considers going back, but then remembers how far he has already come. He has already seen victories over sin and Satan. Going back would likely be more dangerous than pressing forward. Retreat would only set him on the path toward dangers and snares he had already passed. Christian’s resolve is to take courage and press on. Though he is no match for the valley in his own cunning and power, he is determined to “walk in the strength of the Lord God.”

Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might (Ephesians 6:10).

Bunyan describes the valley as dark and confusing. Christian hears voices whispering blasphemies and temptations, but their source is uncertain. He becomes so confused that he even begins to doubt his own testimony and can’t recognize his own voice. In the Valley of Humiliation the enemy was clear. Apollyon stood against him and Christian stood his ground. But now in this valley the enemy is unclear and clandestine. When Christian searches for his foe, it appears to be within his own mind, maybe even himself. He is perplexed and grieved that he could be thinking such wicked thoughts.

This was Bunyan’s testimony as he sought to follow Christ. He describes his own dark days in his autobiography, Grace Abounding, how he was assaulted by discontent and blasphemous thoughts:

For, about the space of a month after, a very great storm came down upon me, which handled me twenty times worse than all I had met with before; it came stealing upon me, now by one piece, then by another: First, all my comfort was taken from me; then darkness seized upon me; after which, whole floods of blasphemies, both against God, Christ, and the scriptures, were poured upon my spirit, to my great confusion and astonishment. These blasphemous thoughts were such as stirred up questions in me against the very being of God, and of His only beloved Son: As, whether there were in truth, a God or Christ? And whether the Holy Scriptures were not rather a fable, and cunning story, than the holy and pure word of God?
[Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners, par. 96]

Like Christian in The Pilgrim’s Progress, Bunyan was fearful and distressed that such terrible thoughts would come from within himself.

Now I thought, surely I am possessed of the devil: at other times, again, I thought I should be bereft of my wits; for instead of lauding and magnifying God the Lord, with others, if I have but heard Him spoken of, presently some most horrible blasphemous thought or other would bolt out of my heart against Him; so that whether I did think that God was, or again did think there was no such thing, no love, nor peace, nor gracious disposition could I feel within me.

These things did sink me into very deep despair; for I concluded that such things could not possibly be found amongst them that loved God. I often, when these temptations had been with force upon me, did compare myself to the case of such a child, whom some gipsy hath by force took up in her arms, and is carrying from friend and country. Kick sometimes I did, and also shriek and cry; but yet I was bound in the wings of the temptation, and the wind would carry me away. I thought also of Saul, and of the evil spirit that did possess him: and did greatly fear that my condition was the same with that of his (1 Samuel 10).
[Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners, par. 101–102]

Bunyan doubted his own faith and mistakenly believed that he was alone in his struggle against sin and the devil.

And now my heart was, at times, exceeding hard; if I would have given a thousand pounds for a tear, I could not shed one: no nor sometimes scarce desire to shed one. I was much dejected, to think that this would be my lot. I saw some could mourn and lament their sin; and others again, could rejoice and bless God for Christ; and others again, could quietly talk of, and with gladness remember the word of God; while I only was in the storm or tempest. This much sunk me, I thought my condition was alone, I should therefore much bewail my hard hap, but get out of, or get rid of these things, I could not.

While this temptation lasted, which was about a year, I could attend upon none of the ordinances of God, but with sore and great affliction. Yea, then I was most distressed with blasphemies. If I had been hearing the word, then uncleanness, blasphemies and despair would hold me a captive there: if I have been reading, then sometimes I had sudden thoughts to question all I read: sometimes again, my mind would be so strangely snatched away, and possessed with other things, that I have neither known, nor regarded, nor remembered so much as the sentence that but now I have read.
[Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners, par. 105–106]

One of Satan’s great ploys is to make us feel unique in our sin and isolated in our suffering. No one can understand what we are facing; no one can possibly bear the sorrows we are carrying; no one can think what we are thinking and be a true follower of Jesus! But God’s Word teaches us otherwise:

No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it (1 Corinthians 10:13).

One of God’s great gifts is to give us brothers and sisters in the faith to walk with us and encourage us. As Christian walks downcast through the valley, he hears ahead of him the voice of another pilgrim quoting the Word of God.

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil;
For You are with me;
Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.
(Psalm 23:4)

This makes Christian glad for three reasons:

1. He realizes that he is not alone in the valley. Others are facing the same trials and temptations as he, and are trusting in God for help and comfort.

2. He realizes that God is with him and watching over him even though he cannot perceive it. Job says of God:

He does great things past finding out,
Yes, wonders without number.
If He goes by me, I do not see Him;
If He moves past, I do not perceive Him
(Job 9:10–11)

We don’t have to be alert and aware for God to be at work. Even when we are confounded and dismayed, He is still sovereign and in control. Even when we are downcast and uncertain, He remains strong and faithful.

3. Christian realizes that a fellow pilgrim is close by. He can gain the blessing of company and consolation if he can meet up with his brother. Christian calls out to get the other’s attention, but hears no answer. The other pilgrim is yet out of sight and believes himself to be alone in the valley as well.

The Valley of the Shadow of Death teaches us an important lesson about the Christian life. It is possible for believers, who are following the Way and walking according to God’s will, to go through dark and difficult days. They may go through times, even seasons, of severe oppression and trial. The valley can be long. Christian plods on for “several miles” and is disconsolate “for some considerable time.” How are we to follow Christ when the days are dark and we are so confounded and perplexed, we don’t know what to do? In those times we must not look to our own strength and understanding. We must walk as Christian, praying always and pressing on in the strength of the Lord. As we walk by faith, trusting in the promises of God’s Word, we will be encouraged. And though we may not see it, in God’s kindness, our perseverance might be an encouragement to others to press on as well.

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 ©2015 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: Titles of Application

Song of Ascents

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

Titles of Application

The inscriptions included in the book of Psalms provide helpful insights into the composition and usefulness of psalms in the worship of God’s people. Thus far in our study of the psalm inscriptions we have examined headings related to designation, description and explanation. The fourth category is application.

Eight inscriptions concern the application of the psalms. Twenty-three psalms in the Psalter contain these inscriptions in their titles. Unlike the titles of designation and description, headings that include an inscription of application never list more than one application. Titles of application denote how the psalm was used or should be used in worship. They can be divided into three groups.

    1. Liturgical (related to Israel’s observance of the festivals and holy days)
    2. Devotional (related to appropriate expressions and occasions for worship)
    3. Didactic (related to instruction and edification)

Liturgical

Three headings relate to the liturgical use of the psalm: for the dedication of the Temple, for the Sabbath Day, and of Ascents.

For the Dedication of the Temple

Psalm 30 includes the inscription a song for the dedication of the Temple (shir-hanukkath habbayith). This psalm was likely written for the dedication of Solomon’s Temple. [1] The NAS translates the phrase literally at the dedication of the House. The KJV and NKJV combine this heading with the heading to David and translate the inscriptions together as at the dedication of the house of David. The NIV and ESV interpret the the Hebrew term habbayith (meaning house) as referring to the Temple. The NIV and ESV have good reason to make this connection. In 2 Chronicles 5:1 the Temple is called the house of Yahweh. The phrase the dedication of the house of God (hanukkath beyth elohim) is found in both verses 16 and 17 in Ezra 6 referring to the dedication of the Temple when it was rebuilt following the exile. The term Hanukkah (dedication) became firmly associated with the Temple in 164 B.C. when Judas Maccabæus established a festival celebrating the reinstitution of worship in the Temple following the desecrations of Antiochus Epiphanes. [2] The festival is mentioned in John 10:22 and includes the singing of Psalm 30.

This heading presents several difficulties in relation to Psalm 30. The psalm is ascribed to David although the Temple had not yet been built. The Temple is not mentioned anywhere in the lyrics to the psalm. In the psalm David rejoices that God heard his prayer and healed him. He thanks God that his enemies have not gained victory over him (verse 1) and he and his lineage are now firmly established in God’s blessing. It is likely in this psalm that David was looking forward in hope to the time when his son would reign and build a House for God. God had promised that David’s house (his son) would built His House (the Temple).

When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever (2 Samuel 7:12-13).

It may have been David’s desire that when the House of God was built and dedicated to the Lord, among the first praises lifted in song would be David’s own thanksgiving to God:

That my glory may sing your praise and not be silent.
O LORD my God, I will give thanks to you forever!
(Psalm 30:12)

For the Sabbath Day

Psalm 92 is a song for the Sabbath Day, a song set apart for use on Israel’s most treasured day of the week. On the first Sabbath Day God rested from His work of creation. In this psalm the psalmist remembers what God has done and in verse 4 proclaims:

For you, O LORD, have made me glad by your work;
At the works of your hands I sing for joy.

On the seventh day of every week, Israel was to rest from labor and celebrate together a holy convocation. The Sabbath was a full day sanctified to the Lord for the purpose of gathering the community together for worship. The psalmist confirms in verse 13 that those who “are planted in the house of the LORD” shall “flourish in the courts of our God.”

In the Temple worship a certain psalm was sung on each day of the week. Alfred Sendrey explains:

On the first day of the week, Psalm 24 was sung in remembrance of the first day of creation. No reason is known for the choice of the other daily psalms. On the second day the Levites sang Psalm 48; thereafter through the week, Psalm 82, 94, 81, 93, and on the Sabbath Day, Psalm 92, which bears this indication in its heading. [3]

Of the Ascents

The heading hamma’eloth appears in a collection of fifteen psalms (120–134). The NKJV, NAS, NIV, and ESV all render the term of Ascents. The KJV has of Degrees. The phrase shir hamma’eloth consists of the noun shir (song) in Construct state (meaning it must be linked to the following term) [4] followed by the noun ma’elah in the plural with the definite article (ha) attached. The phrase is best translated A Song of the Ascents.

Marvin Tate in his commentary observes that all the songs tend to be brief and are pre-occupied with Zion, the City of God (Jerusalem). [5] They were sung by Israelites as they traveled to Jerusalem for worship at the Temple, especially during the three pilgrimage festivals each year: Passover, the Feast of Pentecost, and the Feast of Tabernacles. [6] Sendrey comments:

The short verses, written in an unaffected popular vein not found in other psalms, make it easy to believe that these songs of ascent gradually took shape among the yearly caravans of pilgrims that marched from all corners of Israel to the holy site of Jerusalem. In time they were probably made into a small songbook, whose collective title, “Songs of Ascent,” may have been affixed to each of the songs when the collection was taken into the Psalter. [7]

The Songs of the Ascents expressed the longings of the nation to be in Jerusalem at the time of these festivals and take part in the joyful celebrations in worship of God.

Some commentators have associated the Songs of the Ascents with physical aspects of the Temple, identifying them with the fifteen steps that lay between the Court of Women and the Court of the Israelites, as Sendrey explains:

The oldest rabbinical tradition connects these fifteen steps with the fifteen psalms referred to, saying that the Levites used to stand at the former, while singing the latter at the Feast of Tabernacles during the ceremony of the Water-libation. Since the number of the psalms and of the steps was identical, the rabbinic writers concluded that each psalm was sung on one of the steps. [8]

These steps (ascents) are mentioned in the description of the Temple in Ezekiel 40:26, 31.

Devotional

Four titles of application suggest appropriate expressions of devotion in worship at specific occasions: petition (in time of need), love (at a wedding), gratitude (for answered prayer), and sorrow (in time of affliction).

To Bring Remembrance

The heading to bring remembrance (lehazekir) appears in two psalms (38 and 70). It consists of the preposition to (le) and an infinitive construct verb from the root zkr in the Hiphil (causative active) stem meaning to mention or to remember. [9] In the Qal (simple active) the verb can mean he remembered, called to mind or he mentioned. [10] According to the TWOT, the term has three ranges of meaning: (1) “completely inward, mental” such as to think (about), to meditate (upon), to remember; (2) “mental accompanied by action” such as to pay attention (to); and (3) “forms of audible speaking” such as to mention, declare, recite, proclaim, invoke, commemorate, accuse, confess. [11] The TWOT concludes: “Cognate evidence indicates that the third group of meanings is closest to the verb’s root meaning.” [12] Concerning the origin of zkr, Klein states:

According to some scholars the original meaning of this base would have been “to prick, pierce”, whence “to fix in one’s mind” — to remember. [13]

While the root meaning of the term is clear: remembrance, scholars have debated as to what the Hiphil suggests, remembrance of God (commemoration) or from God (invocation). Klein suggests that the term in the Hiphil means: he caused to be remembered, he mentioned, or he commemorated. [14] The TWOT claims that the “meaning ‘to cause to remember’ for the Hiphils is dubious.” [15] The active nature of the stem seems to lean toward causing God to remember rather than causing God to be remembered.

The NIV favors this meaning, rendering the term a petition. Owens prefers the translation to invoke. [16] The NAS and ESV link the term to an act of worship in the Temple service, for a memorial and for the memorial offering. Peter Craigie explains in his commentary: “The word is sometimes associated with the ‘memorial offering’ … as described in Lev 2:2 and 24:7.” [17]

Along with the two psalm titles, the phrase to bring remembrance also appears in 1 Chronicles 16:4 where it describes one of the three activities to which the Levites were appointed. Through music they were to bring petition, invoking God’s care and remembrance of His people; give God thanks for all He did in His people’s behalf; and praise God’s name that He might be exalted, glorified and honored.

The content of the two psalms possessing the inscription also sheds light on the meaning. Psalm 38 begins: “O Lord, rebuke me not in your anger.” It continues with pleading and petition, concluding in verses 21–22: “Do not forsake me, O LORD; O my God, be not far from me! Make haste to help me, O LORD, my salvation.” Psalm 70 is also clearly a petition, beginning: “Make haste, O God to deliver me!” It concludes: “O LORD, do not delay.” In both psalms David is invoking God’s attention and remembrance. He is asking for God’s protection and care in the midst of suffering and trouble. David uses the same term used of Noah in Genesis 8:1, “and God remembered Noah.” Remembrance here does not refer simply to knowledge—that Noah would come to God’s mind. It rather implies action. God took special care of Noah and all on the ark. It is this care and concern that David earnestly seeks from God in these psalms.

Of Love

Psalm 45 bears the inscription a song of loves (shir yedidoth). The KJV, NKJV, and NAS translate the phrase as Song of Love. The ESV uses Love Song. The NIV has Wedding Song. In light of the content of the Psalm 45, Peter Craigie also favors wedding song. He comments:

There can be little doubt that this poetic composition originated in the wedding celebration for a particular king, composed for the occasion; subsequently, it would have been used frequently at royal weddings. [18]

The phrase shir yedidoth consists of the noun shir in Construct state followed by a plural adjective yedidoth. It is best rendered as A Song of Loves. The title is appropriate to the content of the psalm that not only depicts the beauty of a royal wedding, but also prophetically portrays the glory of Christ, the Messiah, and the beauty of His bride, the church.

For Thanksgiving

Psalm 100 begins with the inscription a psalm for thanksgiving (mizmor letodah). The KJV renders the term letodah of praise. The NKJV and NAS use the word thanksgiving. The NIV and ESV have for giving thanks. The noun todah is derived from the verb yadah which means to confess, praise or give thanks. [19] The TWOT explains:

This cognate noun, being derived from yada, basically means “confession,” either of sin or of God’s character and works. The term was employed uniquely in reference to the sacrificial system of Israel One could bring a “thank-offering” (or “praise-offering”) in which he would make declarations of praise to God and/or confession of sin to God as he offered his sacrifice. [20]

Owens prefers the translation for the thank offering, linking the psalm to its original use in the liturgy of the Temple accompanying the sacrifices. [21] According to the ceremonial law, a worshipper could bring a peace offering for giving thanks (Leviticus 7:12-15). Often these were offered in fulfillment of a vow, when God had heard and answered a plea or petition. This thanksgiving sacrifice is mentioned in Psalm 50:14-15 where Asaph writes:

Offer to God a sacrifice of thanksgiving,
and perform your vows to the Most High,
and call upon me in the day of trouble;
I will deliver you, and you shall glorify me.

As noted above with bringing to remembrance (offering petition), the giving of thanks (yadah) was one of the three primary duties of the Levites as they served God before the ark. [22] The title is fitting to the text as verse 4 of the psalm commands those who come to worship God:

Enter his gates with thanksgiving,
and his courts with praise!
Give thanks to him; bless his name!

For the Afflicted when he is overwhelmed and pours out his complaint

Psalm 102 is a prayer for the afflicted, for use by those who are physically suffering and need to cry out to God for relief. The noun ‘ani translated afflicted refers to those who are overwhelmed by want, poor, wretched or in misery. [23] The psalmist here contemplates his frailty in comparison to God’s firm endurance. Singing psalms is not just for the joyful and glad of heart. The rich content of the Psalms offers as well words for those suffering affliction and in anguish.

Didactic

One title of application found in the Psalter denotes a didactic use of the psalms. The Psalter has, along with its primary purpose of glorifying God, a secondary purpose of edifying the people of God. Through the singing of psalms as God is worshipped, His character and acts are proclaimed to the benefit of the church. His people can learn as they pray and sing and take comfort in the knowledge they gain of their God.

For Teaching

The inscription for teaching (lelammed) occurs in the longest title in the Psalter, the double heading of Psalm 60. The KJV and NAS render this heading to teach. The NKJV and NIV use for teaching. The ESV reads for instruction.

Marvin Tate notes that the heading for teaching implies that the psalm was written “to encourage or inform the people.” [24] An example of this application is seen in Deuteronomy 31:19 where Moses is commanded by God to write down (kithbu) and teach (lamdah) a song to the children of Israel. In this instance the song was to be “a witness for me against the people of Israel.”

Sendrey connects this title to the descriptive term michtam, which may denote a poem written down for the benefit of the community to teach and preserve truth:

The various psalms containing miktam originally may have formed a small independent collection, with Psalm 60 as the initial poem, expressing in its heading the purpose of the entire group, i.e., “to be taught to youth.” [25]

Conclusion

The titles of application help us understand some of the purposes for the psalms as they were used in Temple worship. The psalms provide the content for corporate worship: at the dedication of the Temple, on the Sabbath Day, and even on the journey to participate in gathered worship. We see various activities and situations in which God intends to invoke prayer and praise from His people in song: in times of joy (a wedding) and sorrow (when afflicted); in times of need (petition) and satisfaction (thanksgiving). We also see the value of the psalms in teaching us how to pray and how to praise our most worthy and exalted God.

Notes:

[1] 2 Chronicles 5–6.
[2] Alfred Edersheim, The Temple: Its Ministry and Services as They Were in the Time of Christ (New York: F. H. Revell, 1874; reprint, Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publ. Co., 1987), 333–34.
[3] Alfred Sendrey, David’s Harp: The Study of Music in Biblical Times (New York: New American Library, 1964), 93.
[4] In Construct state shir would be translated into English song of.
[5] Marvin E. Tate, Psalm 51-100, Word Biblical Commentary, eds. David A. Hubbard, et al., vol. 20 (Dallas, Texas: Word Books, 1990), 220.
[6] See Exodus 23:14-17; 34:18-26; Leviticus 23; Deuteronomy 16:1-17.
[7] Sendrey, David’s Harp, 84.
[8] Alfred Sendrey, Music in Ancient Israel (New York: Philosophical Library, Inc., 1969), 99.
[9] William L. Holladay, A Concise Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publ. Co., 1988), 89.
[10] Ernest Klein, A Comprehensive Etymological Dictionary of the Hebrew Language for Readers of English. (New York, MacMillian Publishing Company, 1987), 198.
[11] Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament [TWOT], 1:241.
[12] Ibid.
[13] Klein, Etymological Dictionary, 198.
[14] Ibid.
[15] TWOT, 1:242.
[16] John Joseph Owens, Analytical Key to the Old Testament (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Book House, 1992), 2:735.
[17] Peter C. Craigie, Psalm 1-50, Word Biblical Commentary, eds. David A. Hubbard, et al., vol. 19 (Waco, TX: Word Books, 1983), 303.
[18] Ibid., 338.
[19] TWOT, 1:364.
[20] Ibid., 1:365
[21] Owens, Analytical Key to the Old Testament, 3:433.
[22] 1 Chronicles 16:4. “Then he appointed some of the Levites as ministers before the ark of the LORD, to invoke [bring petitions], to thank, and to praise the LORD, the God of Israel.”
[23] Holladay, A Concise Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon, 278.
[24] Tate, Psalm 51-100, 101.
[25] Sendrey, David’s Harp, 85.

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)

Lessons from the Psalm Inscriptions: Titles of Explanation

When David fled

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

Titles of Explanation

Thirteen of the titles in the Psalter provide some historical information associated with the composition of the psalm. It appears likely from the brevity of the historical explanations that the titles were not meant to provide a detailed account of how the psalms came to be written. Rather the titles are for the benefit of those who would use the psalms in worship.

All 13 psalms that contain historical information relate to events in the life of David. These accounts support the fact that David, called “the sweet psalmist of Israel” in 2 Samuel 23:1, is the author of at least the 73 psalms in the Psalter bearing his name. Ten of the psalms describe circumstances from which David is seeking help and deliverance. Two psalms are devoted to returning thanks to God for deliverance. One psalm is a lament over sin.

Petitions and Pleas for Deliverance

PSALM 3: When he [David] fled from Absalom his son

This psalm is associated with the events in David’s life recorded in 2 Samuel 15:13-17 when David’s son, Absalom rebelled and sought to take his father’s throne. In 2 Samuel 15:13 David receives a message: “The hearts of the men of Israel are with Absalom.” David writes as he begins the psalm:

O LORD, how many are my foes!
Many are rising against me;
many are saying of my soul,
there is no salvation for him in God. Selah
(Psalm 3:1–2)

PSALM 7: Which he [David] sang to Yahweh concerning the words of Cush, a Benjamite

This heading connects Psalm 7 to the events of 2 Samuel 16:5–14. In this passage Shimei the son of Gera cursed David for defeating Saul and taking the throne. He called David a “bloodthirsty rogue.” David reflects on this curse in the psalm:


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
(Psalm 7:3–5)

PSALM 52: When Doeg the Edomite went and told Saul, and said to him: “David has gone to the house of Ahimelech.”

This heading mentions Doeg, Saul’s chief herdsman. [1] Doeg was a wicked man who killed 85 priests at the command of Saul when the rest of the king’s servants refused. [2] In 1 Samuel 22:9 Doeg reported to Saul that David had gone to see Ahimelech the priest. This enraged Saul in a fit of jealousy and led to the murder of the Lord’s priests by Doeg.

Doeg apparently was proud of his deed, for David begins Psalm 52: “Why do you boast of evil, O mighty man?” In verses 7–8 David contrasts Doeg to himself:

“See the man who would not make God his refuge,
but trusted in the abundance of his riches
and sought refuge in his own destruction!”
But I am like a green olive tree in the house of God.
I trust in the steadfast love of God forever and ever.
(Psalm 52:7–8)

PSALM 54: When the Ziphites went and said to to Saul: “Is not David hiding with us?”

This heading relates Psalm 54 to the events recorded in 1 Samuel 23:14-29. David was hiding from Saul in the mountains in the wilderness of Ziph. 1 Samuel 23:15 explains that “Saul had come out to seek his life.” In verse 19 the Ziphites came to Saul and exposed David’s hideout. In Psalm 54:3 David prays:

For strangers have risen against me;
ruthless men seek my life;
they do not set God before themselves. Selah

God protected David and answered his opening plea “O God, save me by your name!” Before Saul could reach David a messenger came and diverted the king and his men to head off an invasion of the Philistines. [3]

PSALM 56: When the Philistines captured him [David] in Gath

In 1 Samuel 21:10-15 David is captured by the servants of Achish, king of Gath. In order to escape David pretended to be insane and then fled to the cave of Adullam, where the next psalm was likely composed.

PSALM 57: When he [David] fled from Saul into the cave

This psalm was likely composed shortly after Psalm 56. 1 Samuel 22:1 records that David escaped from Gath and fled to the cave of Adullam. Marvin Tate in his commentary suggests that this psalm may refer to David’s escape to a cave in the Wilderness of Engedi mentioned in 1 Samuel 24:1-3 since the heading specifies that David was fleeing from Saul. [4] However, since David was running from Saul when he went to Gath and this psalm is placed immediately following Psalm 56 in the Psalter, the cave of Adullam is more likely meant here.

The text of this psalm is appropriate to its heading. In verse 1 David asks for God’s protection until his troubles have passed and he refers to God as a refuge.

Be merciful to me, O God, be merciful to me,
for in you my soul takes refuge;
in the shadow of your wings I will take refuge,
till the storms of destruction pass by.
(Psalm 57:1)

PSALM 59: When Saul sent men, and they watched the house in order to kill him [David]

David composed this psalm before he became king of Israel. Saul was afraid of David and sought to have him killed. In the opening verses David declares his innocence in the matter and asks for God’s deliverance:

Deliver me from my enemies, O my God;
protect me from those who rise up against me;
deliver me from those who work evil,
and save me from bloodthirsty men.
For behold, they lie in wait for my life;
fierce men stir up strife against me.
For no transgression or sin of mine, O LORD
(Psalm 59:1–3)

The situation David describes here is recorded in 1 Samuel 19:1-18. Verse 11 states: “Saul sent messengers to David’s house to watch him, that he might kill him in the morning.” This account also speaks of David’s innocence as Jonathan defends David, asking his father: “Why then will you sin against innocent blood by killing David without cause?” [5] The account ends by describing God’s answer to the prayer expressed in Psalm 59 as David is yet again protected in God’s providence.

PSALM 60: When he [David] fought against Mesopotamia and Syria of Zobah, and Joab returned and killed twelve thousand Edomites in the Valley of Salt

This psalm is associated with David’s battles with Edom recorded in 2 Samuel 8:3–14 and 1 Chronicles 18:12–13. In the psalm David declares God’s sovereignty over all nations and God’s ability to bring all of David’s enemies into submission.

God has spoken in his holiness:
“With exultation I will divide up Shechem
and portion out the Vale of Succoth.
Gilead is mine; Manasseh is mine;
Ephraim is my helmet;
Judah is my scepter.
Moab is my washbasin;
upon Edom I cast my shoe;
over Philistia I shout in triumph.”
Who will bring me to the fortified city?
Who will lead me to Edom?
(Psalm 60:6–9)

The title of the psalm states that twelve thousand were in the Valley of Salt, whereas the historical accounts in 1 Samuel and 1 Chronicles both say eighteen thousand. This difference may be the result of two separate estimates of the number of dead. Another variation that appears in the accounts that may explain the different estimates for the number of dead is the one credited with the victory. In the psalm heading Joab, one of David’s generals, is credited with killing twelve thousand. In 2 Samuel 8:13 David himself is credited with killing eighteen thousand; and in 1 Chronicles 18:12 Abishai, another of David’s generals, is recognized as killing the eighteen thousand. Since all must have been involved in the conflict, all can take some credit for the victory. David makes it clear in the psalm, however, that it is God who must win the ultimate victory. In Psalm. 60:11–12 he prays:

Oh, grant us help against the foe,
for vain is the salvation of man!
With God we shall do valiantly;
it is he who will tread down our foes.

Concerning the location of the battle mentioned in the heading, Tate comments:

The precise location of the Valley of Salt is unknown, but it probably refers to one valley or another in the region of the Dead Sea, probably in Edomite territory. [6]

In spite of this victory, the psalm implies that David was concerned that God may have been displeased with Israel and intent on using David’s enemies to chastise the nation. He begins his prayer to God:

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

PSALM 63: When he [David] was in the wilderness of Judah

This heading links Psalm 63 to David’s time in the wilderness of Judah. It may refer to the events in 1 Samuel 23:14 – 24:1, the same situation that produced Psalm 54, or 2 Samuel 15:23 when David flees from his son, Absalom, the situation of Psalm 3. The psalm is expressive of the imagery of a wilderness. David describes in verse 1 “a dry and weary land where there is no water.” Even in the midst of this trouble David is confident that God will preserve him, saying in the final verse: “But the king shall rejoice in God.”

PSALM 142: When he [David] was in the cave

This is the only title of explanation to appear in the Psalter after Psalm 63. The heading is not specific as to which situation in David’s life the psalm refers. It may refer either to 1 Samuel 22:1 or 24:3. Again David refers to the Lord in this psalm as his refuge. [7]

Praise And Thanksgiving for Deliverance

PSALM 18: Which he [David] 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

The heading to Psalm 18 emphasizes an important aspect of prayer in the Scripture. In many of the headings described above David made passionate requests of God to save him and deliver him from trouble. God was faithful to David and protected him throughout his life as the historical accounts in Scripture make abundantly clear. Prayer, however, must not stop with God’s answer. Petitions must give way to praise and thanksgiving as God’s will is made known through providence.

Consider how David begins his prayer in Psalm 18:

I love you, O LORD, my strength.
The LORD is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer,
my God, my rock, in whom I take refuge,
my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.
I call upon the LORD, who is worthy to be praised,
and I am saved from my enemies.
(Psalm 18:1–3)

Psalm 18 is repeated in 2 Samuel 22, where it appears in the context of a historical narrative. It is difficult to specify the exact day mentioned in the title, as Peter Craig explains in his commentary:

The title indicates that the song was used on the day that David was delivered from enemies in general and from Saul in particular. Yet the context of the title in the parallel passage (2 Sam 22) does not permit the identification of the psalm with a particular event or military victory; it follows an account of Saul’s death and then a summary account of a series of military campaigns against the Philistines (2 Sam 21:15-22). It may have been employed in a celebration of victory after a series of campaigns, or it may be interpreted as having been used in one of Israel’s great annual festivals. [8]

Like the heading to the Psalm, the final verse points to David as the author of the psalm:

Great salvation he brings to his king,
and shows steadfast love to his anointed,
to David and his offspring forever.”
(2 Samuel 22:51)

PSALM 34: When he [David] pretended madness before Abimelech, who drove him away and he departed

In Psalm 34 David expresses thanksgiving to God for answering his prayers of Psalm 56 and 57. In Psalm 56 David cried out to God to save him from his captors in Gath. He pretended to be insane so Abimilech, king of Gath, would be afraid and let him go. [9] In Psalm 56:12 David promised God: “I will render thank offerings to you.” In Psalm 57:9 he said : “I will give thanks to you, O Lord, among the peoples; I will sing praises to you among the nations.” In Psalm 34 David is true to his word and expresses his thanks to God. Psalm 34 begins:

I will bless the LORD at all times;
his praise shall continually be in my mouth.
(Psalm 34:1)

God was indeed a refuge for David during his troubles. Psalm 34 continues:

I sought the LORD, and he answered me
and delivered me from all my fears.
Those who look to him are radiant,
and their faces shall never be ashamed.
This poor man cried, and the LORD heard him
and saved him out of all his troubles.
The angel of the LORD encamps
around those who fear him, and delivers them.
(Psalm 34:4–7)

Repentance and Sorrow over Sin

PSALM 51: When Nathan the Prophet went to him [David] after he had gone in to Bathsheba

Psalm 51 is lamentation of David where he repents of his sin against God and grieves over the wickedness of his heart. Remorse and grief over sin is an experience common to all who are truly God’s people, even a great king who is called in 1 Samuel 13:14 “a man after God’s own heart.” David’s sin is recorded in 1 Samuel 11 where David took Uriah’s wife and had Uriah killed. In 1 Samuel 12 Nathan the prophet was sent to David and through a parable forcefully exposed David’s sin, saying in verse 7: “You are the man!” In Psalm 51 David asks for God’s mercy and confesses that his sin is primarily against God Himself. [10]

John explains in the New Testament, “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us (1 John 1:8).” All Christians struggle with remaining sin, and thus this psalm highlights an important element of public worship, the confession and expiation of sin.

Conclusion

As with the titles of designation, the titles of explanation highlight the historical connection of the psalms with individual songwriters. There are times when it is beneficial to know the circumstances surrounding the composition of a song. The music of worship is often forged in the crucible of life’s trials and afflictions. We see in the psalm inscriptions how David’s words, prayed and sung in the psalms, are tied to events and experiences in his life. Most of the situations that gave occasion for David’s compositions were not situations that David would have chosen for himself. They were hard and painful. And yet through them God showed His power and faithfulness, in hearing and answering prayer.

When you read through the psalms, you will find many personal declarations of petition and praise. Although the Psalter served as the song book for the gathered worship of God’s people in the Old Testament, most of the psalms are voiced in the first person singular (note the many uses of the pronouns “I” and “me” and “my” throughout the psalms). When the personal prayers of David and other psalmists were included in the Psalter, the lyrics were not changed to “we” and “us” in an effort to make the songs sound more corporate in their expression. Instead, the words were left as written with titles of explanation added where needed in the inscriptions.

Why are such personal expressions of worship included in the psalms? Why is it fitting for us to pray and sing about personal struggles and praise even in a corporate setting? There are at least two reasons:

    1. Many of the struggles that we experience are personal struggles—we face them individually. The testimony of God’s Word makes this evident. This is part of what makes the Psalms and all of Scripture so real and so relevant and so accessible for the child of God. It speaks to us and for us where we are—and points us always to our only hope in God and His provision in the gospel of Christ.
    2. As sinners saved by grace, walking together in this world on our way to a better place, we all experience similar struggles—we share many of the same joys and sorrows and temptations and trials. This is why we can read David’s prayers in Scripture and it seems that he is praying our words, speaking our sorrows, lifting our praise. What began as a personal prayer, in God’s providence was set down to become the voice of all God’s people.

The Psalms are useful to us, not only to serve as the very words we pray and lift up as praise, as we sing and pray and read the psalms in worship, but they serve to teach us how to pray—what to pray for—how to persevere in prayer—how to praise—when to praise. And they demonstrate how our own prayers, poured out in the midst of real-life struggles, can benefit and serve the people of God as a whole. What we pray as individuals, in part shapes the voice of the church as a whole.

When Christians pray in gathered worship about personal trials or tragedies, we share their pain. We may recognize similar needs in our own lives. Their prayer is magnified as it provokes more prayer in us. When songwriters compose music for the church, born out of their own joys and sorrows, their hope in God and love for Him is magnified. We sing their words in corporate worship and add our voices to their prayers and praise. This was David’s intent, as he drew from his own experiences to shape the praise of God’s people. He declares in Psalm 34:

I will bless the LORD at all times;
his praise shall continually be in my mouth.
My soul makes its boast in the LORD;
let the humble hear and be glad.
Oh, magnify the LORD with me,
and let us exalt his name together!
(Psalm 34:1-3)

Notes:

[1] 1 Samuel 21:7.
[2] 1 Samuel 22:6-18.
[3] 1 Samuel 23:27.
[4] Marvin E. Tate, Psalm 51-100, Word Biblical Commentary, eds. David A. Hubbard, et al., vol. 20 (Dallas, Texas: Word Books, 1990), 76.
[5] 1 Samuel 19:5.
[6] Tate, Psalm 51-100, 105.
[7] Psalm 142:5.
[8] Peter C. Craigie, Psalm 1-50, Word Biblical Commentary, eds. David A. Hubbard, et al., vol. 19 (Waco, TX: Word Books, 1983), 172-73.
[9] 1 Samuel 21:10–15.
[10] Psalm 51:4.

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)