Study Guide

Psalms Summary

Psalms Summary

Get ready for 150 of the most intense poems you'll ever read.

  • Psalm 1

    • Back to basics, everyone.
    • This psalm makes sure we know the difference between good people and evil people. In case you didn't get the memo, the writers of Psalms think that people who worship God are righteous, and people who don't are wicked. 
    • Notice the fine scenery as we pass.
  • Psalm 2

    Verses 1-3

    NRSV
    Why do the nations conspire, and the peoples plot in vain?
    The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the Lord and his anointed, saying,
    "Let us burst their bonds asunder, and cast their cords from us."

    KJV
    Why do the heathen rage, and the people imagine a vain thing?
    The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the Lord, and against his anointed, saying,
    Let us break their bands asunder, and cast away their cords from us.

    • Uh, oh folks. Trouble's brewing in the kingdom.
    • It seems as though the foreign kings are the ones starting a revolution.
    • Notice that in the newer translation we get "nations," but the King James Version says "heathen." Agenda, anyone?
    • The writer was definitely paranoid about conspiracy theories. They're all out to get him. Think about the impact this psalm would have had if you'd read it over a roaring fire at dusk. Creepy, right?

    Verses 4-9

    NRSV
    He who sits in the heavens laughs; the Lord has them in derision.
    Then he will speak to them in his wrath, and terrify them in his fury, saying,
    "I have set my king on Zion, my holy hill."
    I will tell of the decree of the Lord: He said to me, "You are my son; today I have begotten you.
    Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage, and the ends of the earth your possession.
    You shall break them with a rod of iron, and dash them in pieces like a potter's vessel."

    KJV
    He that sitteth in the heavens shall laugh: the Lord shall have them in derision.
    Then shall he speak unto them in his wrath, and vex them in his sore displeasure.
    Yet have I set my king upon my holy hill of Zion.
    I will declare the decree: the Lord hath said unto me, Thou art my Son; this day have I begotten thee.
    Ask of me, and I shall give thee the heathen for thine inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for thy possession.
    Thou shalt break them with a rod of iron; thou shalt dash them in pieces like a potters vessel.

    • Watch out, people. God's angry.
    • Angry or not, God laughs—who knew? He also sits, speaks, and gets angry. God's starting to sound a lot like an overlarge human with correspondingly bigger temper tantrums that just happen to make the entire universe shake. Go figure.
    • God doesn't even bother to reject the conspirators' claims; he just points over to his chosen.
    • These verses are another endorsement of the Davidic line in Jerusalem, and boy is it possessive. It's "my" king and "my" hill. Verse 7 doesn't literally mean that God had a son, and that son was David. This is figurative, folks. We're not quite at Jesus yet, when the idea of God physically having a son will begin to gain more traction.
    • This whole interaction seems like a pretty sweet deal: ask and ye shall receive, right? David not only gets land, but victory, too.
    • David was famous for winning battles and spilling the blood of his enemies. Built himself a mid-level empire doing it, too.
    • Verse 9 is another example of the major theme of TOTAL ANNIHILATION. Destruction here is big, and there are no second chances.

    Verses 10-11

    NRSV
    Serve the Lord with fear, with trembling
    kiss his feet, or he will be angry, and you will perish in the way; for his wrath is quickly kindled. Happy are all who take refuge in him.

    KJV
    Serve the Lord with fear, and rejoice with trembling.
    Kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and ye perish from the way, when his wrath is kindled but a little. Blessed are all they that put their trust in him. 

    • Who's in the club? This is imperial royal ideology at its finest: followers of David are in, everyone else is out.
    • And just FYI, being out of the club here means being dead. Very dead.
    • Notice that they snuck in "the Son" in the King James Version. Even though that whole idea wasn't around when the psalm was originally written, the writers of the KJV wanted to make the Bible sound like a more unified document.
  • Psalms 3-15

    Psalm 3

    • Change in the winds, folks. The writer's not so cocky here—he's surrounded. God is (hopefully) ready to answer his prayers.

    Psalm 4

    • And…more club talk. This is one cool tree-house to be in; faith in God sets the writer apart, and helps him even more than eating a ton or drinking wine. Go figure.

    Psalm 5

    • Take heed, everyone: God is really not cool with evildoing. Watch out, wicked peeps—God's a comin'.

    Psalm 6

    • The writer is sick and hopes God will give him some NyQuil and a good old-fashioned dose of enemy-humiliation to make him feel dandy again.

    Psalm 7

    • They're after us again. This time, the enemies of the Lord are upon the writer, who prays for a swift, violent end to his persecutors.

    Psalm 8

    • This is a "God's the best" poem, through and through. The writer praises the natural world and the gifts he's given to humankind, and concludes by telling God how majestic his name is throughout the earth. "Aw shucks," responds God.

    Psalm 9

    • Seems like God has delivered for the writer, but now he wants more. Hey, it's the ancient world; a lion could maul you in your sleep, or your king's sworn enemies might sack your city. We should cut the guy some slack for being needy.

    Psalm 10

    • The faithless here are worthless, and God seems a little slow on the uptake to the poet. Our author urges God to hop to work, punish the wicked, and stick up for the meek. ASAP.

    Psalm 11

    • Our poet would like to make it super clear that he totally trusts God and isn't going to run away from conflict. Though, newsflash: God hates violence. But he seems totally willing to use it. Sounds better to be on his side in war.

    Psalm 12

    • The righteous have been supplanted by wicked liars, which is never a good sign. The writer, however, remains confident that God remains ever-present.

    Psalm 13

    • Here, our poet laments that God hides his face and isn't hearing his prayers. This is the Psalmic equivalent of an angry voicemail ("I know you're home...pick up!").

    Psalm 14

    • Once again, faithless = evil. But beware, fellow Shmoopers: the writer is referring to people who follow other gods. Atheism didn't fly back then.

    Psalm 15

    • The faithful have a certain set of standards. The most important standard of all? To remain faithful. Fancy that.
  • Psalm 16

    Verses 1-2

    NRSV
    Protect me, O God, for in you I take refuge.
    I say to the Lord, "You are my Lord; I have no good apart from you."

    KJV
    Preserve me, O God: for in thee do I put my trust.
    O my soul, thou hast said unto the Lord, Thou art my Lord: my goodness extendeth not to thee;

    • Seems more like a deal than a prayer: God gets love and devotion, the writer gets protection. Win-win…win.
    • Talking is a big deal here; you have to tell God you're on board with this deal.

    Verse 3

    NRSV
    As for the holy ones in the land, they are the noble, in whom is all my delight.

    KJV
    But to the saints that are in the earth, and to the excellent, in whom is all my delight.

    • The author thinks of himself as one of the "nobles" in the land who truly believed in God's power, justice, and presence.
    • Although a woman certainly could have played a part in writing the Psalms, this is the ancient world; the prominent figures who could have written a text like Psalms were all men.
    • Notice again how the KJV writers made sure that "holy ones" ended up becoming "saints." Got to watch the edition you're reading. On a pure literary level, they're synonyms, but the words carry entirely different meanings in society.

    Verse 4

    NRSV
    Those who choose another god multiply their sorrows; their drink offerings of blood I will not pour out or take their names upon my lips.

    KJV
    Their sorrows shall be multiplied that hasten after another god: their drink offerings of blood will I not offer, nor take up their names into my lips.

    • Clearly, God has some fierce competition.
    • The author seems to be no stranger to people who think that this whole God thing is a bunch of nonsense.
    • You might think the author is trying to brand his opponents as cannibals, but don't jump to conclusions too quickly. Animal sacrifices were the norm in the ancient world, and the Israelites themselves sacrificed animals in Solomon's Temple in Jerusalem. (Want proof? Check out the Cain and Abel story in Genesis.)
    • In reality, we have no way of knowing what this line is about. Is it actually a reference to an alternative practice involving blood of another people? Or an attempt to label worshipers of other gods as cannibals? 
    • One of the problems with a text like Psalms is that the original meanings were lost when the customs disappeared. That means we need handy dandy archaeology to help us reconstruct the author's original intent.

    Verses 5-11

    NRSV
    The Lord is my chosen portion and my cup; you hold my lot.
    The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; I have a goodly heritage.
    I bless the Lord who gives me counsel; in the night also my heart instructs me.
    I keep the Lord always before me; because he is at my right hand, I shall not be moved.
    Therefore my heart is glad, and my soul rejoices; my body also rests secure.
    For you do not give me up to Sheol, or let your faithful one see the Pit.
    You show me the path of life. In your presence there is fullness of joy; in your right hand are pleasures forevermore.

    KJV
    The Lord is the portion of mine inheritance and of my cup: thou maintainest my lot.
    The lines are fallen unto me in pleasant places; yea, I have a goodly heritage.
    I will bless the Lord, who hath given me counsel: my reins also instruct me in the night seasons.
    I have set the Lord always before me: because he is at my right hand, I shall not be moved.
    Therefore my heart is glad, and my glory rejoiceth: my flesh also shall rest in hope.
    For thou wilt not leave my soul in hell; neither wilt thou suffer thine Holy One to see corruption.
    Thou wilt shew me the path of life: in thy presence is fulness of joy; at thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore.

    • God's constant presence is a major assertion throughout the book of Psalms. No questions asked: God is always around.
    • God offers advice at night during the darkest hours, and the writer "shall not be moved" because he has confidence in God's ability to stay by his side forever.
    • Sounds pretty cozy. Especially because death was a big fear back then, too. For more about death, check out our discussion of "Sheol" in the "Symbols, Imagery, and Allegory" section.
    • The author passionately maintains that God is not just the source and protector of his life, but also the force that endows his life with "pleasures." But it's not that easy; it takes the individual's faith to activate those pleasures. What do you think: is this individualism, or is the poem making the case for God-dependent life? Are the two intertwined?
  • Psalm 17

    • In this doozy, the writer calls on God to protect him and reserve little (or no) mercy for his enemies.
  • Psalm 18

    Verses 1-6

    NRSV
    I love you, O Lord, my strength.
    The Lord is my rock, 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, so I shall be saved from my enemies.
    The cords of death encompassed me; the torrents of perdition assailed me;
    the cords of Sheol entangled me; the snares of death confronted me.
    In my distress I called upon the Lord; to my God I cried for help. From his temple he heard my voice, and my cry to him reached his ears.

    KJV
    I will love thee, O Lord, my strength.
    The Lord is my rock, and my fortress, and my deliverer; my God, my strength, in whom I will trust; my buckler, and the horn of my salvation, and my high tower.
    I will call upon the Lord, who is worthy to be praised: so shall I be saved from mine enemies.
    The sorrows of death compassed me, and the floods of ungodly men made me afraid.
    The sorrows of hell compassed me about: the snares of death prevented me.
    In my distress I called upon the Lord, and cried unto my God: he heard my voice out of his temple, and my cry came before him, even into his ears.

    • Fans of fire and brimstone, this is the psalm for you. We've got a crushing defeat of God's enemies, the crowning of a king, and even a Superman moment for the author.
    • When the poem starts out, the author is ensnared in "the cords of death." But then he cries out to God, who appears as a dragon-like superbeing that obliterates all opposition.
    • Awesome.
    • The writer asserts that faith in God is what allowed him to live, and now he prospers in God's light.
    • Did you notice that "Sheol" in the NRSV is "Hell" in the KJV? Check out our "Symbolism" section for more about Psalms' take on the afterlife.
    • FYI: God isn't just in the sky. In verse 6, he hears the writer specifically from the temple. Yes, God has cosmic powers, but he also has an address.

    Verses 7-15

    NRSV
    Then the earth reeled and rocked; the foundations also of the mountains trembled and quaked, because he was angry.
    Smoke went up from his nostrils, and devouring fire from his mouth; glowing coals flamed forth from him.
    He bowed the heavens, and came down; thick darkness was under his feet.
    He rode on a cherub, and flew; he came swiftly upon the wings of the wind.
    He made darkness his covering around him, his canopy thick clouds dark with water.
    Out of the brightness before him there broke through his clouds hailstones and coals of fire.
    The Lord also thundered in the heavens, and the Most High uttered his voice.
    And he sent out his arrows, and scattered them; he flashed forth lightnings, and routed them.
    Then the channels of the sea were seen, and the foundations of the world were laid bare at your rebuke, O Lord, at the blast of the breath of your nostrils. 

    KJV
    Then the earth shook and trembled; the foundations also of the hills moved and were shaken, because he was wroth.
    There went up a smoke out of his nostrils, and fire out of his mouth devoured: coals were kindled by it.
    He bowed the heavens also, and came down: and darkness was under his feet.
    And he rode upon a cherub, and did fly: yea, he did fly upon the wings of the wind.
    He made darkness his secret place; his pavilion round about him were dark waters and thick clouds of the skies.
    At the brightness that was before him his thick clouds passed, hail stones and coals of fire.
    The Lord also thundered in the heavens, and the Highest gave his voice; hail stones and coals of fire.
    Yea, he sent out his arrows, and scattered them; and he shot out lightnings, and discomfited them.
    Then the channels of waters were seen, and the foundations of the world were discovered at thy rebuke, O Lord, at the blast of the breath of thy nostrils.

    • Yikes. We're a little traumatized. But we shall soldier on!
    • It turns out God is supposed to sound scary. Think of yourself as an Israelite. You have no explanation for these natural phenomena, and they're all pretty frightening. Someone comes along with this kind of explanation, and even if you don't buy it 100%, it sure sounds good. 
    • In this psalm, we get a pretty good idea of what God looks like.
    • According to the ancient writers, he has ears, feet, and a voice like a human's, but smoke comes out of his nostrils (remind anyone of a dragon?), his voice is thunder, and his power "laid bare the foundations of the world."
    • So he's like the scariest human ever.
    • Did you notice that God's power here is specifically linked with a control over nature?
    • If you think all this anthropomorphism sounds a lot like the Greek gods, you're right on. The Greek pantheon was developing around the same time that this stuff is being written. For the record: we think that's cool.
    • Another fun fact: cherubs are angels, and God's arrows are lightning. Check out how most of the imagery is weather and water related. Guess they had those things back then, too.

    Verses 16-45

    NRSV
    He reached down from on high, he took me; he drew me out of mighty waters.
    He delivered me from my strong enemy, and from those who hated me; for they were too mighty for me.
    They confronted me in the day of my calamity; but the Lord was my support.
    He brought me out into a broad place; he delivered me, because he delighted in me.
    The Lord rewarded me according to my righteousness; according to the cleanness of my hands he recompensed me.
    For I have kept the ways of the Lord, and have not wickedly departed from my God.
    For all his ordinances were before me, and his statutes I did not put away from me.
    I was blameless before him, and I kept myself from guilt.
    Therefore the Lord has recompensed me according to my righteousness, according to the cleanness of my hands in his sight.
    With the loyal you show yourself loyal; with the blameless you show yourself blameless;
    with the pure you show yourself pure; and with the crooked you show yourself perverse.
    For you deliver a humble people, but the haughty eyes you bring down.
    It is you who light my lamp; the Lord, my God, lights up my darkness.
    By you I can crush a troop, and by my God I can leap over a wall.
    This God—his way is perfect; the promise of the Lord proves true; he is a shield for all who take refuge in him.
    For who is God except the Lord? And who is a rock besides our God?—
    the God who girded me with strength, and made my way safe.
    He made my feet like the feet of a deer, and set me secure on the heights.
    He trains my hands for war, so that my arms can bend a bow of bronze.
    You have given me the shield of your salvation, and your right hand has supported me; your help has made me great.
    You gave me a wide place for my steps under me, and my feet did not slip.
    I pursued my enemies and overtook them; and did not turn back until they were consumed.
    I struck them down, so that they were not able to rise; they fell under my feet.
    For you girded me with strength for the battle; you made my assailants sink under me.
    You made my enemies turn their backs to me, and those who hated me I destroyed.
    They cried for help, but there was no one to save them; they cried to the Lord, but he did not answer them.
    I beat them fine, like dust before the wind; I cast them out like the mire of the streets.
    You delivered me from strife with the peoples; you made me head of the nations; people whom I had not known served me.
    As soon as they heard of me they obeyed me; foreigners came cringing to me.
    Foreigners lost heart, and came trembling out of their strongholds.

    KJV
    He sent from above, he took me, he drew me out of many waters.
    He delivered me from my strong enemy, and from them which hated me: for they were too strong for me.
    They prevented me in the day of my calamity: but the Lord was my stay.
    He brought me forth also into a large place; he delivered me, because he delighted in me.
    The Lord rewarded me according to my righteousness; according to the cleanness of my hands hath he recompensed me.
    For I have kept the ways of the Lord, and have not wickedly departed from my God.
    For all his judgments were before me, and I did not put away his statutes from me.
    I was also upright before him, and I kept myself from mine iniquity.
    Therefore hath the Lord recompensed me according to my righteousness, according to the cleanness of my hands in his eyesight.
    With the merciful thou wilt shew thyself merciful; with an upright man thou wilt shew thyself upright;
    With the pure thou wilt shew thyself pure; and with the froward thou wilt shew thyself froward.
    For thou wilt save the afflicted people; but wilt bring down high looks.
    For thou wilt light my candle: the Lord my God will enlighten my darkness.
    For by thee I have run through a troop; and by my God have I leaped over a wall.
    As for God, his way is perfect: the word of the Lord is tried: he is a buckler to all those that trust in him.
    For who is God save the Lord? or who is a rock save our God?
    It is God that girdeth me with strength, and maketh my way perfect.
    He maketh my feet like hinds feet, and setteth me upon my high places.
    He teacheth my hands to war, so that a bow of steel is broken by mine arms.
    Thou hast also given me the shield of thy salvation: and thy right hand hath holden me up, and thy gentleness hath made me great.
    Thou hast enlarged my steps under me, that my feet did not slip.
    I have pursued mine enemies, and overtaken them: neither did I turn again till they were consumed.
    I have wounded them that they were not able to rise: they are fallen under my feet.
    For thou hast girded me with strength unto the battle: thou hast subdued under me those that rose up against me.
    Thou hast also given me the necks of mine enemies; that I might destroy them that hate me.
    They cried, but there was none to save them: even unto the Lord, but he answered them not.
    Then did I beat them small as the dust before the wind: I did cast them out as the dirt in the streets.
    Thou hast delivered me from the strivings of the people; and thou hast made me the head of the heathen: a people whom I have not known shall serve me.
    As soon as they hear of me, they shall obey me: the strangers shall submit themselves unto me.
    The strangers shall fade away, and be afraid out of their close places.

    • This is a big chunk, we know. But check out how the whole of this passage refers to what God does for the writer. He gets powers, his enemies are crushed, and he's promoted…that's it in a nutshell.
    • The Biblical writers have a tremendous amount of discretion; they can go on and on whenever they want even if they repeat the same thing a hundred times. Remember all those "begats" in Genesis? Ernest Hemingway would have been horrified, but here we are.
    • Here, God does not use his power to destroy evil in favor of good. No, the author maintains that God helped him "because he delighted in me."
    • It's not about right or wrong, it seems. It's about loyalty. If you want God to help you out, you'll need to be loyal.
    • The author talks about "ordinances" and "statutes," but we never get a clear idea of what those laws tell him to do. The ancient audience would have been very familiar with them, though. Think about it: if you dug up an "Uncle Sam Wants YOU" poster in two thousand years, would you have any idea what it was referring to?
    • In these verses, God's power is not just God's—it's transferred to the author.
    • Basically, the psalm implies that if you are loyal to God, he will give you powers, like the ability to "crush a troop" or "leap over a wall."
    • The author can even "bend a bow of bronze" because he was loyal to God. Faster than a speeding bullet, anyone?
    • Mercy and kindness make no appearance in this psalm at all…in case you didn't notice. The author and God together totally annihilate their enemies. The author "beat them fine, like dust before the wind." 
    • This extermination fantasy arises from the conditions of the ancient world at the time; defeat meant giving up your culture in favor of your conqueror's, and the author is no stranger to this practice. His enemies "have no one to save them," implying God's victory over rival deities who are much less powerful.

    Verses 46-50

    NRSV
    The Lord lives! Blessed be my rock, and exalted be the God of my salvation,
    the God who gave me vengeance and subdued peoples under me;
    who delivered me from my enemies; indeed, you exalted me above my adversaries; you delivered me from the violent.
    For this I will extol you, O Lord, among the nations, and sing praises to your name.
    Great triumphs he gives to his king, and shows steadfast love to his anointed, to David and his descendants forever.

    KJV
    The Lord liveth; and blessed be my rock; and let the God of my salvation be exalted.
    It is God that avengeth me, and subdueth the people under me.
    He delivereth me from mine enemies: yea, thou liftest me up above those that rise up against me: thou hast delivered me from the violent man.
    Therefore will I give thanks unto thee, O Lord, among the heathen, and sing praises unto thy name.
    Great deliverance giveth he to his king; and sheweth mercy to his anointed, to David, and to his seed for evermore.

    • Still with us? Awesome.
    • In case you missed the memo, the author is not kinder or more moral than his adversary; he's just loyal to God.
    • And how about verse 48? After beating his enemies to a pulp, the writer thanks God for saving him from "violent men." What happened to peace and love?
    • The point here isn't that one nation is violent and the other isn't. Turns out everyone in the ancient world is violent.
  • Psalms 19-22

    Psalm 19

    • In this psalm, God's law isn't just like nature—God's law is nature. Be afraid, people. Be very afraid.

    Psalm 20

    • Here, God provides strength not through military might, but through his name alone. Intense.

    Psalm 21

    • This psalm is a monarchy endorsement if ever there was one. Read and be convinced.

    Psalm 22

    • This depressed dude is having what can only be described as a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day; his heart has turned to wax, and he's surrounded by wild beasts. Yikes. He's half furious that God let things get this far and half praiseworthy of God's great ways. He'll figure it out, we hope.
  • Psalm 23

    Verses 1-3

    NRSV
    The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.
    He makes me lie down in green pastures; he leads me beside still waters;
    he restores my soul. He leads me in right paths for his name's sake.

    KJV
    The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
    He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.
    He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his names sake.

    • Sound familiar?
    • This psalm is actually one of the shortest—only six verses—but it's probably the most famous. Why? Because it talks about the presence of God in a quiet, everyday way.
    • Here we see God in green fields and quiet waters, pastoral images that are a long way away from fire and brimstone.
    • The subject of the poem is a shepherd, and in case you hadn't heard, shepherding in the Bible's day was a lonely and dangerous profession.
    • You had to fend off lions and bears, keep control of your sheep, and deal with constant isolation. Since they had so much time on their hands to practice, shepherds were also famed as great musicians.
    • It's no coincidence that King David and Moses both spent time as shepherds. It was kind of the "in" thing back then. 
    • Quick Bible nugget: most biblical prophets, before they start talking about the end of the world, spend time in the wilderness on their own. It's called the "wilderness phase," and it creates a narrative that brings them closer to nature and God.

    Verse 4

    NRSV
    Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil; for you are with me; your rod and your staff — they comfort me.

    KJV
    Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.

    • Naturally, the protagonist of the poem has to face some difficulty. First up: he walks in "the valley of the shadow of death," a scary image that combines the unknown of darkness with the unknown of death.
    • The shepherd didn't have many weapons: just his staff and his brains, nothing more. No guns, no GPS, and no Bowie knives.
    • God's presence is in the little the shepherd does possess. Sounds pretty special to us.
    • Translation alert! The literal translation would be "the darkest valley," but the King James Bible translates these words as "the valley of the shadow of death."
    • Most people know the mistranslation better than the original because—let's face it—it sounds better. But this is more than just a Harry Potter-esque difference between "Sorcerer's Stone" and "Philosopher's Stone." The text of this psalm is so old that the new translations of it add a layer to how we interpret its meaning.

    Verses 5-6

    NRSV
    You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.
    Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord my whole life long. 

    KJV
    Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.
    Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.

    • The psalm ends as it began—with an everyday image endowed with holiness. The "table" here is not extravagant. It's just an expression of wonder that the writer is still alive after so many hardships.
    • In the olden days, "anointing a head with oil" was a mark of status. The shepherd here, King David, is marveling at how far he has come through simple devotion to God.
    • Given the wandering nature of a shepherd's job, this psalm asserts that God's protection follows a loyal person around. 
    • Unlike elsewhere in Psalms, where God resides in the temple or on the battlefield, in Psalm 23, God's house seems to be wherever you make it.
  • Psalms 24-28

    Psalm 24

    • Open the gates, fellas. God's coming to town today.

    Psalm 25

    • Life got complicated, and the author feels guilty. But he's still pretty sure that God is good about forgiving those who remain loyal.

    Psalm 26

    • It seems like the writer's done some good old fashioned atoning, and is now reapplying for membership in God's congregation.

    Psalm 27

    • All an Israelite wants is to win his battles and see the temple in Jerusalem. Is that really so much to ask? Well, it merits a psalm, at the very least.

    Psalm 28

    • The writer cried out, and God heard. Open-shut case.
  • Psalm 29

    Verses 1-2

    NRSV
    Ascribe to the Lord, O heavenly beings, ascribe to the Lord glory and strength.
    Ascribe to the Lord the glory of his name; worship the Lord in holy splendor.

    KJV
    Give unto the Lord, O ye mighty, give unto the Lord glory and strength.
    Give unto the Lord the glory due unto his name; worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness.

    • This first verse of this well-known psalm describes the beings that give homage to God, but there's just one problem: it has been translated a number of different ways: the King James Version translates it as "ye mighty," HarperCollins goes with "sons of God," and the NRSV chooses "heavenly beings." What's a Sunday School kid to do with all these differences?
    • Answer: consider who's translating the text and why they would translate it that way. (Looking for an even more interesting and controversial instance of this translation phenomenon? Check out Genesis 6:1-4.)
    • Translating the words as "sons of God" gives the impression that God has offspring. If that idea doesn't fit into the translator's vision of the text, then they'll probably choose to render the words a bit differently.
    • "Ye mighty" isn't an incorrect translation, but it does take a certain license with the text. Like in Psalm 23, this license can create new and beautiful ways to read the words, but it can also create confusion about the author's intentions, worldview, and meaning. 
    • Yeah, the Bible can be tough.

    Verses 3-9

    NRSV
    The voice of the Lord is over the waters; the God of glory thunders, the Lord, over mighty waters.
    The voice of the Lord is powerful; the voice of the Lord is full of majesty.
    The voice of the Lord breaks the cedars; the Lord breaks the cedars of Lebanon.
    He makes Lebanon skip like a calf, and Sirion like a young wild ox.
    The voice of the Lord flashes forth flames of fire.
    The voice of the Lord shakes the wilderness; the Lord shakes the wilderness of Kadesh.
    The voice of the Lord causes the oaks to whirl, and strips the forest bare; and in his temple all say, "Glory!"

    KJV
    The voice of the Lord is upon the waters: the God of glory thundereth: the Lord is upon many waters.
    The voice of the Lord is powerful; the voice of the Lord is full of majesty.
    The voice of the Lord breaketh the cedars; yea, the Lord breaketh the cedars of Lebanon.
    He maketh them also to skip like a calf; Lebanon and Sirion like a young unicorn.
    The voice of the Lord divideth the flames of fire.
    The voice of the Lord shaketh the wilderness; the Lord shaketh the wilderness of Kadesh.
    The voice of the Lord maketh the hinds to calve, and discovereth the forests: and in his temple doth every one speak of his glory.

    • Here God goes again, asserting his power over nature. But here, God has particular power over water, thunder, and the flood. In the ancient world, storm gods were often the most powerful—just look at Zeus.
    • What we get in this psalm is an older conception of the Israelites' God. By the time of the Babylonian exile (circa 580 BCE), the writers of the Bible had to rethink their worldview: maybe God wasn't just a storm god, but had larger powers, too. This is helpful for scholars, who often date the different psalms by how closely they identify with the storm god mythos.
    • Want to feel like you're living in biblical times? Well, in this psalm, we get a pretty good sense of the geopolitical world in which the Israelites lived. The psalm mentions Lebanon, Kadesh, and Sirion, right? Sure gives you an idea of just how small the world was to an Israelite writer: God's mastery extending a hundred miles north is a huge deal, worthy of its own psalm.
    • This is a far cry from our sense of scale today, of course, but it's important to remember that the entire area that Psalms deals with is about the size of a smallish U.S. state.
    • And check this out: when God is done doing what he does, the party is in his temple. Once again, God has an address, which definitely gives Jerusalem a certain clout. Imagine you were a farmer in ancient Israel; you've never seen a city before, and suddenly you see God's home. Not too shabby.

    Verses 10-11

    NRSV
    The Lord sits enthroned over the flood; the Lord sits enthroned as king forever.
    May the Lord give strength to his people! May the Lord bless his people with peace!

    KJV
    The Lord sitteth upon the flood; yea, the Lord sitteth King for ever.
    The Lord will give strength unto his people; the Lord will bless his people with peace.

    • More flood imagery, and God is on top.
    • Yes, this is a reference to Noah and the flood in Genesis.
    • Actually, it's a pretty weird image if you think about it. God sits enthroned over all this destruction through the flood, and in the next verse, he promises peace to his believers. What a wild ride.
  • Psalms 30-44

    Psalm 30

    • God can get angry sometimes, but his favor lasts a lifetime. Kind of like the opposite of a housecat.

    Psalm 31

    • The writer was feeling down and humiliated, but God saved him. Notice the dual track here: the psalm alternates between describing the writer's depression and illustrating God's ability to get him out of that depression. Writers are tricky.

    Psalm 32

    • The main message here is that nobody's perfect, and God knows it. Just make sure you pay him your dues.

    Psalm 33

    • God watches everyone and everything, and his works function so perfectly that they sound like music on a cosmic scale. Nifty.

    Psalm 34

    • God gathers his loyal followers to him and preserves even their bones. When you die, God will remember you as faithful. Sweet deal. Just watch out for the non-righteous.

    Psalm 35

    • The author here got bullied by his enemies, and cries out to God for help. In exchange, he'll make God famous with his words. Considering the longevity of the Psalms, it looks like they did something right.

    Psalm 36

    • Watch out—the wicked are everywhere. Being close to God is "drinking from the fountain of life" (36:9), and God's light is given to his followers.

    Psalm 37

    • Patience, people. God will come to the writer's aid, and when he does, things are going to get crazy.

    Psalm 38

    • This is one sick writer. He's tired, in bed, and regretful. God is the only one he thinks can save him from his wounds, both physical and spiritual.

    Psalm 39

    • Apparently the writer said something way wrong and is doing some serious groveling before God. He'd also (ahem) like a little help from God digging out of his current jam...you know, if God's not too busy.

    Psalm 40

    • In this psalm, the writer thanks God for all he has done for him, and then decides to tell everyone else about it, too. It's like free publicity…almost.

    Psalm 41

    • Poverty, betrayal, deliverance—the writer is going through some serious ups and downs. This God character has a lot of tricks up his sleeve.

    Psalm 42

    • This one's kind of bittersweet, as the writer reflects on better times and asks God why he has been absent.

    Psalm 43

    • More longing: this time to be back in Zion in God's presence.

    Psalm 44

    • The writer reflects on the stories he was taught about God's might on the battlefield and declares that he remains faithful despite a recent string of defeats.
  • Psalm 45

    Verse 1

    NRSV
    My heart overflows with a goodly theme; I address my verses to the king; my tongue is like the pen of a ready scribe.

    KJV
    My heart is inditing a good matter: I speak of the things which I have made touching the king: my tongue is the pen of a ready writer.

    • This psalm is addressed to an Israelite king on the occasion of a royal wedding.
    • Remember, this would have been sung or read as poetry. Fancy. That's why the author says that his tongue is like a pen (simile alert!). There's no pen involved.

    Verses 2-5

    NRSV
    You are the most handsome of men; grace is poured upon your lips; therefore God has blessed you forever.
    Gird your sword on your thigh, O mighty one, in your glory and majesty.
    In your majesty ride on victoriously for the cause of truth and to defend the right; let your right hand teach you dread deeds.
    Your arrows are sharp in the heart of the king's enemies; the peoples fall under you. 

    KJV
    Thou art fairer than the children of men: grace is poured into thy lips: therefore God hath blessed thee for ever.
    Gird thy sword upon thy thigh, O most mighty, with thy glory and thy majesty.
    And in thy majesty ride prosperously because of truth and meekness and righteousness; and thy right hand shall teach thee terrible things.
    Thine arrows are sharp in the heart of the kings enemies; whereby the people fall under thee.

    • Finding it hard to figure out who's God and who's king? That's what the writer wants. God teaches the king how to use divine power. It's good to be the king, right?
    • See, this one is dripping with sycophantisms. Translation: we've got a goody-two-shoes on our hands.
    • Truth pops up here in an interesting way, one which we haven't really explored yet in Psalms. Think about it: Psalms would say that truth is God's law and loyalty to it, but the book doesn't really go into what that law is or what "truth" means.
    • It's ambiguous to us, but would have been crystal clear to the Israelites.

    Verses 6-9

    NRSV
    Your throne, O God, endures forever and ever. Your royal scepter is a scepter of equity;
    you love righteousness and hate wickedness. Therefore God, your God, has anointed you with the oil of gladness beyond your companions;
    your robes are all fragrant with myrrh and aloes and cassia. From ivory palaces stringed instruments make you glad;
    daughters of kings are among your ladies of honor; at your right hand stands the queen in gold of Ophir.

    KJV
    Thy throne, O God, is for ever and ever: the sceptre of thy kingdom is a right sceptre.
    Thou lovest righteousness, and hatest wickedness: therefore God, thy God, hath anointed thee with the oil of gladness above thy fellows.
    All thy garments smell of myrrh, and aloes, and cassia, out of the ivory palaces, whereby they have made thee glad.
    Kings daughters were among thy honourable women: upon thy right hand did stand the queen in gold of Ophir.

    • From this passage, we get an idea of what kinds of luxuries came with royalty. We've got ivory, spices, gold, and an entourage of virgins and soldiers for the princess and prince, respectively. Not too shabby.
    • Pretty poignant images, right? These smells and materials would have been familiar to the audience. Think about it: even if you've never held a bar of gold, you know what it looks like and what it represents, right? Here we have symbols of power and wealth that the writer is tying to divine power.

    Verses 10-17

    NRSV
    Hear, O daughter, consider and incline your ear; forget your people and your father's house,
    and the king will desire your beauty. Since he is your lord, bow to him;
    the people of Tyre will seek your favor with gifts, the richest of the people
    with all kinds of wealth. The princess is decked in her chamber with gold-woven robes;
    in many-colored robes she is led to the king; behind her the virgins, her companions, follow.
    With joy and gladness they are led along as they enter the palace of the king.
    In the place of ancestors you, O king, shall have sons; you will make them princes in all the earth.
    I will cause your name to be celebrated in all generations; therefore the peoples will praise you forever and ever.

    KJV
    Hearken, O daughter, and consider, and incline thine ear; forget also thine own people, and thy fathers house;
    So shall the king greatly desire thy beauty: for he is thy Lord; and worship thou him.
    And the daughter of Tyre shall be there with a gift; even the rich among the people shall intreat thy favour.
    The kings daughter is all glorious within: her clothing is of wrought gold.
    She shall be brought unto the king in raiment of needlework: the virgins her companions that follow her shall be brought unto thee.
    With gladness and rejoicing shall they be brought: they shall enter into the kings palace.
    Instead of thy fathers shall be thy children, whom thou mayest make princes in all the earth.
    I will make thy name to be remembered in all generations: therefore shall the people praise thee for ever and ever.

    • Notice how the royal family is tied to God, which naturally lends them a certain legitimacy (divine right). They also seem to have the ability to create a long-lasting line of kings that can uphold God's power (and their own).
    • How do they do it? Sons, sons, sons! The key to maintaining your grip on royal power was to pass the title on to a male heir. Since they naturally couldn't control the gender of their children, royals liked to hear it said at court and believed that asking God helped them out a bit.
  • Psalms 46-50

    Psalm 46

    • In this psalm, God has total mastery over the natural world, the battlefield, and people. Check, check, and check.

    Psalm 47

    • Turn the music on, people. It's time to party because God is on top.

    Psalm 48

    • Zion (a.k.a. Jerusalem) is apparently so beautiful that it sent every other king in the district running. Wishful thinking or historical fact? Read up, and you decide.

    Psalm 49

    Psalm 50

    • God doesn't just want sacrifices; he wants verbal acknowledgement. And some R-E-S-P-E-C-T.
  • Psalm 51

    Verses 1-5

    NRSV
    Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions.
    Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin.
    For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me.
    Against you, you alone, have I sinned, and done what is evil in your sight, so that you are justified in your sentence and blameless when you pass judgment.
    Indeed, I was born guilty, a sinner when my mother conceived me.

    KJV
    Have mercy upon me, O God, according to thy loving kindness: according unto the multitude of thy tender mercies blot out my transgressions.
    Wash me throughly from mine iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin.
    For I acknowledge my transgressions: and my sin is ever before me.
    Against thee, thee only, have I sinned, and done this evil in thy sight: that thou mightest be justified when thou speakest, and be clear when thou judgest.
    Behold, I was shapen in iniquity; and in sin did my mother conceive me.

    • The speaker definitely knows he's caused some trouble, and he's praying to God for forgiveness.
    • So far, the writer is concerned only with his personal transgressions.
    • Take a second to check out the differences in the translations. The NRSV implies that the sinner's transgressions are so bad that they go back all the way to his birth. The KJV takes it one step further, implying that the mother was involved in the sinning, too. Original sin was a Big Deal when the KJV was written, so it makes sense.

    Verses 6-12

    NRSV
    You desire truth in the inward being; therefore teach me wisdom in my secret heart.
    Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.
    Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones that you have crushed rejoice.
    Hide your face from my sins, and blot out all my iniquities.
    Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me.
    Do not cast me away from your presence, and do not take your holy spirit from me.
    Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and sustain in me a willing spirit.

    KJV
    Behold, thou desirest truth in the inward parts: and in the hidden part thou shalt make me to know wisdom.
    Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean: wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.
    Make me to hear joy and gladness; that the bones which thou hast broken may rejoice.
    Hide thy face from my sins, and blot out all mine iniquities.
    Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me.
    Cast me not away from thy presence; and take not thy holy spirit from me.
    Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation; and uphold me with thy free spirit.

    • Again, this passage is all personal.
    • It's also all imagery. And powerful metaphors mean punchy metaphors. 
    • P.S. Hyssop is an herb.

    Verses 13-19

    NRSV
    Then I will teach transgressors your ways, and sinners will return to you.
    Deliver me from bloodshed, O God, O God of my salvation, and my tongue will sing aloud of your deliverance.
    O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth will declare your praise.
    For you have no delight in sacrifice; if I were to give a burnt offering, you would not be pleased.
    The sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.
    Do good to Zion in your good pleasure; rebuild the walls of Jerusalem,
    then you will delight in right sacrifices, in burnt offerings and whole burnt offerings; then bulls will be offered on your altar.

    KJV
    Then will I teach transgressors thy ways; and sinners shall be converted unto thee.
    Deliver me from blood guiltiness, O God, thou God of my salvation: and my tongue shall sing aloud of thy righteousness.
    O Lord, open thou my lips; and my mouth shall shew forth thy praise.
    For thou desirest not sacrifice; else would I give it: thou delightest not in burnt offering.
    The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise.
    Do good in thy good pleasure unto Zion: build thou the walls of Jerusalem.
    Then shalt thou be pleased with the sacrifices of righteousness, with burnt offering and whole burnt offering: then shall they offer bullocks upon thine altar.

    • It sounds like if God forgives our writer, he'll do some major publicity for God.
    • Now it's a community problem, and the writer is relaying God's ways to everyone else.
    • All that talk of sacrifice? That's actual sacrifice they're talking about—the kind that would go down in the temple in Jerusalem.
    • One critical theme here is the power of the voice. God's voice is always powerful—after all, he created the world by speaking. But in this passage, the speaker is powerful because he is proclaiming God's might.
    • Oh, and he's redeemed through this attempt to convert others.
    • Again, we receive no explanation of what exactly God's law is or how the speaker violated it; we only read an expression of remorse. Secret sinning? Sounds juicy.
    • Twist ending! The psalm concludes by expressing a hope that Jerusalem will be rebuilt so that animal sacrifices can recommence on the altar.
  • Psalms 52-54

    Psalm 52

    • This time the evildoer is the one humiliated. Reciprocity, anyone?

    Psalm 53

    • Fools here are faithless flippants of God's law. They don't stand a chance in the writer's book—literally.

    Psalm 54

    • The writer makes a sacrifice to God in the hopes that it will help him. Given God's history, we're going to go with yes.
  • Psalm 55

    Verses 1-8

    NRSV
    Give ear to my prayer, O God; do not hide yourself from my supplication.
    Attend to me, and answer me; I am troubled in my complaint. I am distraught
    by the noise of the enemy, because of the clamor of the wicked. For they bring trouble upon me, and in anger they cherish enmity against me.
    My heart is in anguish within me, the terrors of death have fallen upon me.
    Fear and trembling come upon me, and horror overwhelms me.
    And I say, "O that I had wings like a dove! I would fly away and be at rest;
    truly, I would flee far away; I would lodge in the wilderness; Selah
    I would hurry to find a shelter for myself from the raging wind and tempest."

    KJV
    Give ear to my prayer, O God; and hide not thyself from my supplication.
    Attend unto me, and hear me: I mourn in my complaint, and make a noise;
    Because of the voice of the enemy, because of the oppression of the wicked: for they cast iniquity upon me, and in wrath they hate me.
    My heart is sore pained within me: and the terrors of death are fallen upon me.
    Fearfulness and trembling are come upon me, and horror hath overwhelmed me.
    And I said, Oh that I had wings like a dove! for then would I fly away, and be at rest.
    Lo, then would I wander far off, and remain in the wilderness. Selah.
    I would hasten my escape from the windy storm and tempest.

    • Get ready for one of the most famous in the Bible: "O that I had wings like a dove! I would fly away and be at rest."
    • Here we see a new type of God on display, if you think about it. He is both the personal God who helps individuals, but also the God whose wrath will completely destroy the speaker's enemy.
    • All of the images are natural (surprise, surprise), and the audience would certainly be able to relate. Being caught in a storm wasn't just bad luck, it was dangerous for the flock.
    • Being hated is a huge part of the writer's agenda; this guy just couldn't seem to catch a break.

    Verses 9-23

    NRSV
    Confuse, O Lord, confound their speech; for I see violence and strife in the city.
    Day and night they go around it on its walls, and iniquity and trouble are within it;
    ruin is in its midst; oppression and fraud do not depart from its marketplace.
    It is not enemies who taunt me— I could bear that; it is not adversaries who deal insolently with me— I could hide from them.
    But it is you, my equal, my companion, my familiar friend,
    with whom I kept pleasant company; we walked in the house of God with the throng.
    Let death come upon them; let them go down alive to Sheol; for evil is in their homes and in their hearts.
    But I call upon God, and the Lord will save me.
    Evening and morning and at noon I utter my complaint and moan, and he will hear my voice.
    He will redeem me unharmed from the battle that I wage, for many are arrayed against me.
    God, who is enthroned from of old, Selah will hear, and will humble them— because they do not change, and do not fear God.
    My companion laid hands on a friend and violated a covenant with me
    with speech smoother than butter, but with a heart set on war; with words that were softer than oil, but in fact were drawn swords.
    Cast your burden on the Lord, and he will sustain you; he will never permit the righteous to be moved.
    But you, O God, will cast them down into the lowest pit; the bloodthirsty and treacherous shall not live out half their days. But I will trust in you.

    KJV
    Destroy, O Lord, and divide their tongues: for I have seen violence and strife in the city.
    Day and night they go about it upon the walls thereof: mischief also and sorrow are in the midst of it.
    Wickedness is in the midst thereof: deceit and guile depart not from her streets.
    For it was not an enemy that reproached me; then I could have borne it: neither was it he that hated me that did magnify himself against me; then I would have hid myself from him:
    But it was thou, a man mine equal, my guide, and mine acquaintance.
    We took sweet counsel together, and walked unto the house of God in company.
    Let death seize upon them, and let them go down quick into hell: for wickedness is in their dwellings, and among them.
    As for me, I will call upon God; and the Lord shall save me.
    Evening, and morning, and at noon, will I pray, and cry aloud: and he shall hear my voice.
    He hath delivered my soul in peace from the battle that was against me: for there were many with me.
    God shall hear, and afflict them, even he that abideth of old. Selah. Because they have no changes, therefore they fear not God.
    He hath put forth his hands against such as be at peace with him: he hath broken his covenant.
    The words of his mouth were smoother than butter, but war was in his heart: his words were softer than oil, yet were they drawn swords.
    Cast thy burden upon the Lord, and he shall sustain thee: he shall never suffer the righteous to be moved.
    But thou, O God, shalt bring them down into the pit of destruction: bloody and deceitful men shall not live out half their days; but I will trust in thee.

    • Now the writer is bummed out because a friend has betrayed him. How does he handle it? A chat over coffee? A curtly worded email? Nope. He asks God to punish the friend.
    • Urban blight is a huge problem here. The friend's fraud is part of a larger trend of corruption in the city, and the speaker can't bear to face it alone.
    • So God isn't called upon for advice—which is a more modern conception of God's role—but for swift, merciless vengeance. 
    • It seems like God is down for this sort of thing…why ask if the answer will be no? One again, we've got a different God than we've seen previously.
  • Psalms 56-77

    Psalm 56

    • God's records are extensive and he essentially knows everything. This could get ugly.

    Psalm 57

    • The writer is amidst the lions, but fear not—God's helping him out on this one.

    Psalm 58

    • Total, complete, and utter destruction. We're talking bloodbaths, snakes, snails, and thorns. Who says the Bible has no action?

    Psalm 59

    • God laughs at his enemies. Like Simba, but with the street cred to back it up.

    Psalm 60

    • The writer blames God for a defeat, but then reminds himself that God will surely make things better. No problem.

    Psalm 61

    • This time, the writer prays for himself, his king, and his people. It's kind of like a reminder to God that he has paid his bills every day, but hasn't gotten his electricity yet.

    Psalm 62

    • Class is irrelevant, because God is the ultimate rock upon which to build your house. Like this? Check out Matthew 7:24-27 for more.

    Psalm 63

    • As long as the writer's soul is satisfied by God's love, he has no need of things like water or food. That's love, people.

    Psalm 64

    • The evildoers' plot is undone. Case closed.

    Psalm 65

    • Here, God is the earth's gardener. And yeah, we live in the garden.

    Psalm 66

    • God's power is so awesome, so cool, that the writer is going to set aside his favorite goat and his favorite bull. How do you like them apples?

    Psalm 67

    • The natural world has given the writer a bounty, so he felt like writing a poem for God. And he did.

    Psalm 68

    • God helps the meek in a nice, personal way, and then proceeds to strike down his enemies with fire and brimstone. These differing versions of God here aren't just related—for the writer, they're the same.

    Psalm 69

    • Everyone has turned on the writer, but fear not, God is on his way.

    Psalm 70

    • The writer is confident that God will save him. (In case you didn't get that from the other 149 psalms.)

    Psalm 71

    • God will rise from the depths to save his servant. Translation? The enemies of the writer have no chance.

    Psalm 72

    • The writer prays for the king, his family, and his armies. This king could not be any cooler in the eyes of the writer.

    Psalm 73

    • The writer reflects on the faithlessness of the faithless, and then tells God that his faith is all he needs to survive. What, no chocolate?

    Psalm 74

    • Jerusalem has been destroyed, but the writer reminds himself of all the stories of his people. Rehash time, everyone! Exodus swoops in to save the writer from his misery.

    Psalm 75

    • The writer compares God to a bartender who only serves bad drinks to the evildoers. They're doomed to the drain. Good wine goes a long way here.

    Psalm 76

    • Human emotion is nothing compared to God's. What can an Israelite do but praise God?

    Psalm 77

    • Again we have a dual God: he lives in your house and consoles you when you're afraid of the dark, but he also smites, smites, and…smites. Powerful guy.
  • Psalm 78

    Verses 1-8

    NRSV
    Give ear, O my people, to my teaching; incline your ears to the words of my mouth.
    I will open my mouth in a parable; I will utter dark sayings from of old,
    things that we have heard and known, that our ancestors have told us.
    We will not hide them from their children; we will tell to the coming generation the glorious deeds of the Lord, and his might, and the wonders that he has done.
    He established a decree in Jacob, and appointed a law in Israel, which he commanded our ancestors to teach to their children;
    that the next generation might know them, the children yet unborn, and rise up and tell them to their children,
    so that they should set their hope in God, and not forget the works of God, but keep his commandments;
    and that they should not be like their ancestors, a stubborn and rebellious generation, a generation whose heart was not steadfast, whose spirit was not faithful to God.

    KJV
    Give ear, O my people, to my law: incline your ears to the words of my mouth.
    I will open my mouth in a parable: I will utter dark sayings of old:
    Which we have heard and known, and our fathers have told us.
    We will not hide them from their children, shewing to the generation to come the praises of the Lord, and his strength, and his wonderful works that he hath done.
    For he established a testimony in Jacob, and appointed a law in Israel, which he commanded our fathers, that they should make them known to their children:
    That the generation to come might know them, even the children which should be born; who should arise and declare them to their children:
    That they might set their hope in God, and not forget the works of God, but keep his commandments:
    And might not be as their fathers, a stubborn and rebellious generation; a generation that set not their heart aright, and whose spirit was not steadfast with God.

    • Rehash time.
    • One of the main goals of any community song, piece of art, or poem is to create a cultural narrative that can stand the test of time. Because Exodus was huge for the Israelites, they wanted to turn it into something more…pithy. (Yeah, 72 verses isn't that pithy—we know.)
    • Either way, the writers have a sale they need to make, and Exodus is a long book. Condensing it into a memorable, sing-able poem is an essential project.
    • The beginning of the psalm discusses the community's need for cultural remembrance; an appeal to old situations to help contextualize new ones. It's like when politicians talk about current wars in terms of Vietnam.
    • Generational memory is a huge deal here. How often do we hear older people talk about "the values of their generation"? We'll be doing it, too, once we get there.

    Verses 9-72

    NRSV
    The Ephraimites, armed with the bow, turned back on the day of battle.
    They did not keep God's covenant, but refused to walk according to his law.
    They forgot what he had done, and the miracles that he had shown them.
    In the sight of their ancestors he worked marvels in the land of Egypt, in the fields of Zoan.
    He divided the sea and let them pass through it, and made the waters stand like a heap.
    In the daytime he led them with a cloud, and all night long with a fiery light.
    He split rocks open in the wilderness, and gave them drink abundantly as from the deep.
    He made streams come out of the rock, and caused waters to flow down like rivers.
    Yet they sinned still more against him, rebelling against the Most High in the desert.
    They tested God in their heart by demanding the food they craved.
    They spoke against God, saying, "Can God spread a table in the wilderness?
    Even though he struck the rock so that water gushed out and torrents overflowed, can he also give bread, or provide meat for his people?"
    Therefore, when the Lord heard, he was full of rage; a fire was kindled against Jacob, his anger mounted against Israel,
    because they had no faith in God, and did not trust his saving power.
    Yet he commanded the skies above, and opened the doors of heaven;
    he rained down on them manna to eat, and gave them the grain of heaven.
    Mortals ate of the bread of angels; he sent them food in abundance.
    He caused the east wind to blow in the heavens, and by his power he led out the south wind;
    he rained flesh upon them like dust, winged birds like the sand of the seas;
    he let them fall within their camp, all around their dwellings.
    And they ate and were well filled, for he gave them what they craved.
    But before they had satisfied their craving, while the food was still in their mouths,
    the anger of God rose against them and he killed the strongest of them, and laid low the flower of Israel.
    In spite of all this they still sinned; they did not believe in his wonders.
    So he made their days vanish like a breath, and their years in terror.
    When he killed them, they sought for him; they repented and sought God earnestly.
    They remembered that God was their rock, the Most High God their redeemer.
    But they flattered him with their mouths; they lied to him with their tongues.
    Their heart was not steadfast toward him; they were not true to his covenant.
    Yet he, being compassionate, forgave their iniquity, and did not destroy them; often he restrained his anger, and did not stir up all his wrath.
    He remembered that they were but flesh, a wind that passes and does not come again.
    How often they rebelled against him in the wilderness and grieved him in the desert!
    They tested God again and again, and provoked the Holy One of Israel.
    They did not keep in mind his power, or the day when he redeemed them from the foe;
    when he displayed his signs in Egypt, and his miracles in the fields of Zoan.
    He turned their rivers to blood, so that they could not drink of their streams.
    He sent among them swarms of flies, which devoured them, and frogs, which destroyed them.
    He gave their crops to the caterpillar, and the fruit of their labor to the locust.
    He destroyed their vines with hail, and their sycamores with frost.
    He gave over their cattle to the hail, and their flocks to thunderbolts.
    He let loose on them his fierce anger, wrath, indignation, and distress, a company of destroying angels.
    He made a path for his anger; he did not spare them from death, but gave their lives over to the plague.
    He struck all the firstborn in Egypt, the first issue of their strength in the tents of Ham.
    Then he led out his people like sheep, and guided them in the wilderness like a flock.
    He led them in safety, so that they were not afraid; but the sea overwhelmed their enemies.
    And he brought them to his holy hill, to the mountain that his right hand had won.
    He drove out nations before them; he apportioned them for a possession and settled the tribes of Israel in their tents.
    Yet they tested the Most High God, and rebelled against him. They did not observe his decrees,
    but turned away and were faithless like their ancestors; they twisted like a treacherous bow.
    For they provoked him to anger with their high places; they moved him to jealousy with their idols.
    When God heard, he was full of wrath, and he utterly rejected Israel.
    He abandoned his dwelling at Shiloh, the tent where he dwelt among mortals,
    and delivered his power to captivity, his glory to the hand of the foe.
    He gave his people to the sword, and vented his wrath on his heritage.
    Fire devoured their young men, and their girls had no marriage song.
    Their priests fell by the sword, and their widows made no lamentation.
    Then the Lord awoke as from sleep, like a warrior shouting because of wine.
    He put his adversaries to rout; he put them to everlasting disgrace.
    He rejected the tent of Joseph, he did not choose the tribe of Ephraim;
    but he chose the tribe of Judah, Mount Zion, which he loves.
    He built his sanctuary like the high heavens, like the earth, which he has founded forever.
    He chose his servant David, and took him from the sheepfolds;
    from tending the nursing ewes he brought him to be the shepherd of his people Jacob, of Israel, his inheritance.
    With upright heart he tended them, and guided them with skillful hand.

    KJV
    The children of Ephraim, being armed, and carrying bows, turned back in the day of battle.
    They kept not the covenant of God, and refused to walk in his law;
    And forgat his works, and his wonders that he had shewed them.
    Marvellous things did he in the sight of their fathers, in the land of Egypt, in the field of Zoan.
    He divided the sea, and caused them to pass through; and he made the waters to stand as an heap.
    In the daytime also he led them with a cloud, and all the night with a light of fire.
    He clave the rocks in the wilderness, and gave them drink as out of the great depths.
    He brought streams also out of the rock, and caused waters to run down like rivers.
    And they sinned yet more against him by provoking the most High in the wilderness.
    And they tempted God in their heart by asking meat for their lust.
    Yea, they spake against God; they said, Can God furnish a table in the wilderness?
    Behold, he smote the rock, that the waters gushed out, and the streams overflowed; can he give bread also? can he provide flesh for his people?
    Therefore the Lord heard this, and was wroth: so a fire was kindled against Jacob, and anger also came up against Israel;
    Because they believed not in God, and trusted not in his salvation:
    Though he had commanded the clouds from above, and opened the doors of heaven,
    And had rained down manna upon them to eat, and had given them of the corn of heaven.
    Man did eat angels food: he sent them meat to the full.
    He caused an east wind to blow in the heaven: and by his power he brought in the south wind.
    He rained flesh also upon them as dust, and feathered fowls like as the sand of the sea:
    And he let it fall in the midst of their camp, round about their habitations.
    So they did eat, and were well filled: for he gave them their own desire;
    They were not estranged from their lust. But while their meat was yet in their mouths,
    The wrath of God came upon them, and slew the fattest of them, and smote down the chosen men of Israel.
    For all this they sinned still, and believed not for his wondrous works.
    Therefore their days did he consume in vanity, and their years in trouble.
    When he slew them, then they sought him: and they returned and enquired early after God.
    And they remembered that God was their rock, and the high God their redeemer.
    Nevertheless they did flatter him with their mouth, and they lied unto him with their tongues.
    For their heart was not right with him, neither were they stedfast in his covenant.
    But he, being full of compassion, forgave their iniquity, and destroyed them not: yea, many a time turned he his anger away, and did not stir up all his wrath.
    For he remembered that they were but flesh; a wind that passeth away, and cometh not again.
    How oft did they provoke him in the wilderness, and grieve him in the desert!
    Yea, they turned back and tempted God, and limited the Holy One of Israel.
    They remembered not his hand, nor the day when he delivered them from the enemy.
    How he had wrought his signs in Egypt, and his wonders in the field of Zoan.
    And had turned their rivers into blood; and their floods, that they could not drink.
    He sent divers sorts of flies among them, which devoured them; and frogs, which destroyed them.
    He gave also their increase unto the caterpiller, and their labour unto the locust.
    He destroyed their vines with hail, and their sycomore trees with frost.
    He gave up their cattle also to the hail, and their flocks to hot thunderbolts.
    He cast upon them the fierceness of his anger, wrath, and indignation, and trouble, by sending evil angels among them.
    He made a way to his anger; he spared not their soul from death, but gave their life over to the pestilence;
    And smote all the firstborn in Egypt; the chief of their strength in the tabernacles of Ham:
    But made his own people to go forth like sheep, and guided them in the wilderness like a flock.
    And he led them on safely, so that they feared not: but the sea overwhelmed their enemies.
    And he brought them to the border of his sanctuary, even to this mountain, which his right hand had purchased.
    He cast out the heathen also before them, and divided them an inheritance by line, and made the tribes of Israel to dwell in their tents.
    Yet they tempted and provoked the most high God, and kept not his testimonies:
    But turned back, and dealt unfaithfully like their fathers: they were turned aside like a deceitful bow.
    For they provoked him to anger with their high places, and moved him to jealousy with their graven images.
    When God heard this, he was wroth, and greatly abhorred Israel:
    So that he forsook the tabernacle of Shiloh, the tent which he placed among men;
    And delivered his strength into captivity, and his glory into the enemys hand.
    He gave his people over also unto the sword; and was wroth with his inheritance.
    The fire consumed their young men; and their maidens were not given to marriage.
    Their priests fell by the sword; and their widows made no lamentation.
    Then the Lord awaked as one out of sleep, and like a mighty man that shouteth by reason of wine.
    And he smote his enemies in the hinder parts: he put them to a perpetual reproach.
    Moreover he refused the tabernacle of Joseph, and chose not the tribe of Ephraim:
    But chose the tribe of Judah, the mount Zion which he loved.
    And he built his sanctuary like high palaces, like the earth which he hath established for ever.
    He chose David also his servant, and took him from the sheepfolds:
    From following the ewes great with young he brought him to feed Jacob his people, and Israel his inheritance.
    So he fed them according to the integrity of his heart; and guided them by the skilfulness of his hands.

    • Whoa there, fellas. Why'd we give you sixty-three verses? Don't worry—this is all rehash; it's the whole narrative of Exodus squeezed into one. And since you've already read that (right?), it should be easy-peasy.
    • Some of this should sound familiar: the ten plagues, the plight of the Israelites, all that jazz.
    • The author is not above naming names; the Ephraimites, an Israelite tribe, are cited here as having walked out on God and on their brothers. 
    • In addition to more specific politics, this psalm discusses common objections to God's power.
    • Example? The enemies of Israel ask, "Can God spread a table in the wilderness"? No problem—the psalm comes back by discussing miracles that God (and Moses) have performed throughout the Bible. All this recap adds continuity to the stories that are important to the culture. Think about how often we still hear American fables like Paul Bunyan.
    • In 78:63, the author gives us some specifics on what happens when your community is annihilated. The young men are all burned, and the women lose their ability to have children. Basically, the community literally loses all chances it has at longevity. 
    • Also check out 78:65, where God awakens "like a warrior shouting because of wine." What does this teach us? First, that the writers of the Bible were no strangers to the age-old motif of soldiers getting drunk. Second, that God may not be exactly what we thought. Think about how we saw him in Psalm 16—ever-present, right? But if God woke up, that implies that he was asleep…and probably unaware of people needing him. Curious, indeed.
  • Psalms 79-88

    Psalm 79

    • The writer pleads for God's return to Jerusalem after it's been sacked (i.e., this is a post-exilic composition). He also asks God to work through his anger issues and penchant for destruction...just with other nations...

    Psalm 80

    • God is as a gardener—again—who took Israel as "a vine" from Egypt. What gives, God? Tend to your plant!

    Psalm 81

    • God is angry. Really angry. Israel has started to look at different gods, and clearly this doesn't fly with him. Watch out.

    Psalm 82

    • God has been promoted. He's now at the head of the divine council, and he's handing out bonuses to his believers.

    Psalm 83

    • Time to roll up your sleeves: the Israelites have some late night work to do. What, you ask? Annihilating their enemies, of course.

    Psalm 84

    • The author would rather be a doorman in God's temple than in the thick of somebody else's temple. That's like saying you'd rather be a doorman at the Plaza than the owner of a motel in Ruralsville, U.S.A.

    Psalm 85

    • Here, the author expresses confidence that the land will produce lots of grain, that the righteous will be rewarded, and that everything will be hunky-dory. Three cheers for stability!

    Psalm 86

    • Ah, if only life were so simple, and if only the writer's heart was undivided. It's hard to be faithful forever, but the writer knows he can do it.

    Psalm 87

    • God designates Zion as his preferred pad.

    Psalm 88

    • Depression's back. God has abandoned the writer, and this is one guy who needs some lovin'. Better call up God.
  • Psalm 89

    NRSV
    I will sing of your steadfast love, O Lord, forever; with my mouth I will proclaim your faithfulness to all generations.
    I declare that your steadfast love is established forever; your faithfulness is as firm as the heavens.
    You said, "I have made a covenant with my chosen one, I have sworn to my servant David:
    'I will establish your descendants forever, and build your throne for all generations.'"

    KJV
    I will sing of the mercies of the Lord for ever: with my mouth will I make known thy faithfulness to all generations.
    For I have said, Mercy shall be built up for ever: thy faithfulness shalt thou establish in the very heavens.
    I have made a covenant with my chosen, I have sworn unto David my servant,
    Thy seed will I establish for ever, and build up thy throne to all generations. Selah.

    • The covenant is a huge piece of the biblical contract between the Israelites and God. It's a deal that trades acceptance of God's law for protection and power from God. Kind of like a patronage situation.
    • Not surprisingly, writing gets produced when the covenant is broken. Whenever a biblical writer waxes poetic about how great the covenant is, it's to remind people about it. ("Yeah, it exists. Follow it.")
    • "Steadfast love" is a phrase often used in place of "covenant." Notice how in the KJV, that gets converted into Mercy with a capital M. Mercy isn't really on God's agenda as a universal human concept in the Hebrew Bible. But hey, we'll give them the power of poetic license.

    Verses 5-18

    NRSV
    Let the heavens praise your wonders, O Lord, your faithfulness in the assembly of the holy ones.
    For who in the skies can be compared to the Lord? Who among the heavenly beings is like the Lord,
    a God feared in the council of the holy ones, great and awesome above all that are around him?
    O Lord God of hosts, who is as mighty as you, O Lord? Your faithfulness surrounds you.
    You rule the raging of the sea; when its waves rise, you still them.
    You crushed Rahab like a carcass; you scattered your enemies with your mighty arm.
    The heavens are yours, the earth also is yours; the world and all that is in it—you have founded them.
    The north and the south—you created them; Tabor and Hermon joyously praise your name.
    You have a mighty arm; strong is your hand, high your right hand.
    Righteousness and justice are the foundation of your throne; steadfast love and faithfulness go before you.
    Happy are the people who know the festal shout, who walk, O Lord, in the light of your countenance;
    they exult in your name all day long, and extol your righteousness.
    For you are the glory of their strength; by your favor our horn is exalted.
    For our shield belongs to the Lord, our king to the Holy One of Israel.

    KJV
    And the heavens shall praise thy wonders, O Lord: thy faithfulness also in the congregation of the saints.
    For who in the heaven can be compared unto the Lord? who among the sons of the mighty can be likened unto the Lord?
    God is greatly to be feared in the assembly of the saints, and to be had in reverence of all them that are about him.
    O Lord God of hosts, who is a strong Lord like unto thee? or to thy faithfulness round about thee?
    Thou rulest the raging of the sea: when the waves thereof arise, thou stillest them.
    Thou hast broken Rahab in pieces, as one that is slain; thou hast scattered thine enemies with thy strong arm.
    The heavens are thine, the earth also is thine: as for the world and the fulness thereof, thou hast founded them.
    The north and the south thou hast created them: Tabor and Hermon shall rejoice in thy name.
    Thou hast a mighty arm: strong is thy hand, and high is thy right hand.
    Justice and judgment are the habitation of thy throne: mercy and truth shall go before thy face.
    Blessed is the people that know the joyful sound: they shall walk, O Lord, in the light of thy countenance.
    In thy name shall they rejoice all the day: and in thy righteousness shall they be exalted.
    For thou art the glory of their strength: and in thy favour our horn shall be exalted.
    For the Lord is our defence; and the Holy One of Israel is our king.

    • Back to the fire and brimstone.
    • What's going on with the "assembly" and "council" of holy beings that God is a part of? And why is he described as the master of the sea and he storm? Well, in the ancient world, polytheism was the norm. As a new kind of worship emerged, part of the Hebrew Bible's project as a piece of community literature was to assert God's dominance over the rest of the other gods. Only later did this morph into what we call monotheism today. Who knew? (We did.)
    • Speaking of which, it seems like God has won a war among the heavenly beings to assert his control. Don't forget it, because this motif will come back in a big way when John Milton writes Paradise Lost millennia later.
    • Who's this Rahab character? We're glad we asked. Rahab is a mythical sea dragon, and he was the big opponent for gods back in the day. It was like passing the bar, but for ancient gods—you just have no street cred unless you take on Rahab. Given God's status as a storm god, he pulled this off, no problem.

    Verses 19-37

    NRSV
    Then you spoke in a vision to your faithful one, and said: "I have set the crown on one who is mighty, I have exalted one chosen from the people.
    I have found my servant David; with my holy oil I have anointed him;
    my hand shall always remain with him; my arm also shall strengthen him.
    The enemy shall not outwit him, the wicked shall not humble him.
    I will crush his foes before him and strike down those who hate him.
    My faithfulness and steadfast love shall be with him; and in my name his horn shall be exalted.
    I will set his hand on the sea and his right hand on the rivers.
    He shall cry to me, 'You are my Father, my God, and the Rock of my salvation!'
    I will make him the firstborn, the highest of the kings of the earth.
    Forever I will keep my steadfast love for him, and my covenant with him will stand firm.
    I will establish his line forever, and his throne as long as the heavens endure.
    If his children forsake my law and do not walk according to my ordinances,
    if they violate my statutes and do not keep my commandments,
    then I will punish their transgression with the rod and their iniquity with scourges;
    but I will not remove from him my steadfast love, or be false to my faithfulness.
    I will not violate my covenant, or alter the word that went forth from my lips.
    Once and for all I have sworn by my holiness; I will not lie to David.
    His line shall continue forever, and his throne endure before me like the sun.
    It shall be established forever like the moon, an enduring witness in the skies." Selah

    KJV
    Then thou spakest in vision to thy holy one, and saidst, I have laid help upon one that is mighty; I have exalted one chosen out of the people.
    I have found David my servant; with my holy oil have I anointed him:
    With whom my hand shall be established: mine arm also shall strengthen him.
    The enemy shall not exact upon him; nor the son of wickedness afflict him.
    And I will beat down his foes before his face, and plague them that hate him.
    But my faithfulness and my mercy shall be with him: and in my name shall his horn be exalted.
    I will set his hand also in the sea, and his right hand in the rivers.
    He shall cry unto me, Thou art my father, my God, and the rock of my salvation.
    Also I will make him my firstborn, higher than the kings of the earth.
    My mercy will I keep for him for evermore, and my covenant shall stand fast with him.
    His seed also will I make to endure for ever, and his throne as the days of heaven.
    If his children forsake my law, and walk not in my judgments;
    If they break my statutes, and keep not my commandments;
    Then will I visit their transgression with the rod, and their iniquity with stripes.
    Nevertheless my loving kindness will I not utterly take from him, nor suffer my faithfulness to fail.
    My covenant will I not break, nor alter the thing that is gone out of my lips.
    Once have I sworn by my holiness that I will not lie unto David.
    His seed shall endure for ever, and his throne as the sun before me.
    It shall be established for ever as the moon, and as a faithful witness in heaven. Selah.

    • How about more storm god imagery? Sure, but this time, God lends David some of his power. God "sets his hand on the sea" (89:25) so that David can use his power during periods when God is absent. Not a bad deal.
    • This passage is designed to assure the reader that God's covenant is ironclad for David; no amount of pushing can make God violate his end of the bargain…
    • …or can it? The passage is careful to hold David in high esteem, but it allows for anybody new who violates the covenant to be punished.

    Verses 38-52

    NRSV
    But now you have spurned and rejected him; you are full of wrath against your anointed.
    You have renounced the covenant with your servant; you have defiled his crown in the dust.
    You have broken through all his walls; you have laid his strongholds in ruins.
    All who pass by plunder him; he has become the scorn of his neighbors.
    You have exalted the right hand of his foes; you have made all his enemies rejoice.
    Moreover, you have turned back the edge of his sword, and you have not supported him in battle.
    You have removed the scepter from his hand, and hurled his throne to the ground.
    You have cut short the days of his youth; you have covered him with shame. Selah
    How long, O Lord? Will you hide yourself forever? How long will your wrath burn like fire?
    Remember how short my time is— for what vanity you have created all mortals!
    Who can live and never see death? Who can escape the power of Sheol? Selah
    Lord, where is your steadfast love of old, which by your faithfulness you swore to David?
    Remember, O Lord, how your servant is taunted; how I bear in my bosom the insults of the peoples,
    with which your enemies taunt, O Lord, with which they taunted the footsteps of your anointed.
    Blessed be the Lord forever. Amen and Amen.

    KJV
    But thou hast cast off and abhorred, thou hast been wroth with thine anointed.
    Thou hast made void the covenant of thy servant: thou hast profaned his crown by casting it to the ground.
    Thou hast broken down all his hedges; thou hast brought his strong holds to ruin.
    All that pass by the way spoil him: he is a reproach to his neighbours.
    Thou hast set up the right hand of his adversaries; thou hast made all his enemies to rejoice.
    Thou hast also turned the edge of his sword, and hast not made him to stand in the battle.
    Thou hast made his glory to cease, and cast his throne down to the ground.
    The days of his youth hast thou shortened: thou hast covered him with shame. Selah.
    How long, Lord? wilt thou hide thyself for ever? shall thy wrath burn like fire?
    Remember how short my time is: wherefore hast thou made all men in vain?
    What man is he that liveth, and shall not see death? shall he deliver his soul from the hand of the grave? Selah.
    Lord, where are thy former loving kindnesses, which thou swarest unto David in thy truth?
    Remember, Lord, the reproach of thy servants; how I do bear in my bosom the reproach of all the mighty people;
    Wherewith thine enemies have reproached, O Lord; wherewith they have reproached the footsteps of thine anointed.
    Blessed be the Lord for evermore. Amen, and Amen.

    • This last part of the psalm laments God's apparent departure. But as you might have guessed, it's not God's fault. Nope, it must have been of a lapse of faith.
    • The author doesn't want God to help him just because he's been faithful; he wants God to help him because a defeat would mean God's humiliation. Yep, it's all about reputation.
    • In the ancient world, if you won a battle, your god was great—simple as that. Preserving images of invincible gods would have helped leaders to win new battles. After all, if the enemy is shaking in their boots, that helps the worshipers.
  • Psalms 90-114

    Psalm 90

    • Man is nothing more than dust, and the only way for a good Israelite to have an impact is to do God's work. Message received.

    Psalm 91

    • No matter how many men fall in battle next to the writer, he is protected by God's angels. Can we get that option on our auto insurance, please?

    Psalm 92

    • The author declares that stupid people have no chance of understanding God's power and might. This is starting to seem like a pretty exclusive club.

    Psalm 93

    • God got a new robe from Target, and man, does that thing look awesome. Oh, and also—God looks enough like a human to don a robe. How about that?

    Psalm 94

    • We like to call this the "Job psalm" because the message is essentially the same as the Book of Job: God's power is so beyond our comprehension that we can't hope to understand it. This is power at its height.

    Psalm 95

    • Here the writer discusses the lost generation of the Bible that was forced to wander around in the desert for forty years because they were unfaithful (remember Exodus?). We've seen this before in Psalms: it's like a political commentator today comparing Vietnam to Afghanistan. The actual correctness of the analogy doesn't matter; it's the practice of referencing stuff from the past so your point resonates more with an audience.

    Psalm 96

    • The writer awaits God's judgments amidst the natural wonders inspired by God. Yeah, God and nature are tight.

    Psalm 97

    • The mountain of God approaches, and wow, is this thing scary. Watch out for it on the New Jersey Turnpike.

    Psalm 98

    • Human music and natural music (you know, waves and thunder) will be a winning combo in glorifying God.

    Psalm 99

    • And we're back to Exodus to remind us of the awesome things that God did for his peeps. Special bonus: shout-outs to Moses, Samuel, and Aaron—figures that the Israelites would have known well.

    Psalm 100

    • Make some noise—God is coming.

    Psalm 101

    • The writer is looking for roommates. Faithless need not apply.

    Psalm 102

    • The only thing that lasts is God. (And Twinkies.) No expiration date, no lapse of memory. Which is all that seems to comfort our long-suffering author, who really can't wait to stop eating ashes as his food (understandably).

    Psalm 103

    • Now the writer gets deep—surprise, surprise—and reflects on how short his time on earth is.

    Psalm 104

    • God's natural wonders abound and make life pleasant for the author. If you're a faithful Israelite, you've got to give credit where credit is due.

    Psalm 105

    • Recap time. Here we get Exodus in a nutshell—again. God lived up to his end of the covenantal bargain, and delivered his people from distress. Woot.

    Psalm 106

    • And…another rehashing of old myths. This time, it focuses on the people's idolatry (traitors) and shady dealings to explain why God stopped trying to live up to his end of the covenantal bargain.

    Psalm 107

    • Turns out one of God's biggest powers is transforming the natural landscape from desert into lush land. FernGully, anyone?

    Psalm 108

    • This one is for the ancients. The author divides up the land of his enemies—which the audience would have known well—for God and his loyal followers.

    Psalm 109

    • Forgive and forget sure wasn't around back in the day. Here, the writer wishes nothing but ill upon his enemies, and hopes that their children will be chased out of the ruins of their cities. So there's that.

    Psalm 110

    • The writer assures himself and his audience that God is not only present, but at their side constantly. Just in case they had any doubts after 109 of these things.

    Psalm 111

    • The author praises God for his works, which include providing food and protection. Basic needs first, right?

    Psalm 112

    • One more reward for the faithful: lots of kids. Child mortality rates were high back then, so this is kind of a big deal.

    Psalm 113

    • The writer looks up and—wait for it—sees God.

    Psalm 114

    • Here's another Exodus rehash, albeit a shorter one. The upshot: God's so crazy great that he makes the mountains jump like rams. Nice.
  • Psalm 115

    Verses 1-18

    NRSV
    Not to us, O Lord, not to us, but to your name give glory, for the sake of your steadfast love and your faithfulness.
    Why should the nations say, "Where is their God?"
    Our God is in the heavens; he does whatever he pleases.
    Their idols are silver and gold, the work of human hands.
    They have mouths, but do not speak; eyes, but do not see.
    They have ears, but do not hear; noses, but do not smell.
    They have hands, but do not feel; feet, but do not walk; they make no sound in their throats.
    Those who make them are like them; so are all who trust in them.
    O Israel, trust in the Lord! He is their help and their shield.
    O house of Aaron, trust in the Lord! He is their help and their shield.
    You who fear the Lord, trust in the Lord! He is their help and their shield.
    The Lord has been mindful of us; he will bless us; he will bless the house of Israel; he will bless the house of Aaron;
    he will bless those who fear the Lord, both small and great.
    May the Lord give you increase, both you and your children.
    May you be blessed by the Lord, who made heaven and earth.
    The heavens are the Lord's heavens, but the earth he has given to human beings.
    The dead do not praise the Lord, nor do any that go down into silence.
    But we will bless the Lord from this time on and forevermore. Praise the Lord!

    KJV
    Not unto us, O Lord, not unto us, but unto thy name give glory, for thy mercy, and for thy truth's sake.
    Wherefore should the heathen say, Where is now their God?
    But our God is in the heavens: he hath done whatsoever he hath pleased.
    Their idols are silver and gold, the work of men's hands.
    They have mouths, but they speak not: eyes have they, but they see not:
    They have ears, but they hear not: noses have they, but they smell not:
    They have hands, but they handle not: feet have they, but they walk not: neither speak they through their throat.
    They that make them are like unto them; so is every one that trusteth in them.
    O Israel, trust thou in the Lord: he is their help and their shield.
    O house of Aaron, trust in the Lord: he is their help and their shield.
    Ye that fear the Lord, trust in the Lord: he is their help and their shield.
    The Lord hath been mindful of us: he will bless us; he will bless the house of Israel; he will bless the house of Aaron.
    He will bless them that fear the Lord, both small and great.
    The Lord shall increase you more and more, you and your children.
    Ye are blessed of the Lord which made heaven and earth.
    The heaven, even the heavens, are the Lord's: but the earth hath he given to the children of men.
    The dead praise not the Lord, neither any that go down into silence.
    But we will bless the Lord from this time forth and for evermore. Praise the Lord.

    • Nothing new here: the Israelites are supposed to remain faithful to God. This time, though, we get some direct comparisons between their God and the others'.
    • Everyone around the Israelites has idols that they say are their gods, and the Israelites have nothing. Nothing physical, that is.
    • Why not? Because God is up in heaven.
    • Check out how the writer talks about the idols. They can't even do what humans can—walk, talk, smell, see, hear—let alone do what gods can. Weather, anyone?
    • One more cool thing: according to this psalm, earth is man's territory, and heaven is God's. We'll take it.
  • Psalms 116-136

    Psalm 116

    • God seems to be a decent doctor. Good thing, too, because sickness was a big deal for the Israelites—there was no NyQuil back then.

    Psalm 117

    • Call to action! The author wants everyone to acknowledge and serve God.

    Psalm 118

    • This one's got a little Machiavelli in it: it basically argues that the Israelites should avoid putting their trust in men. God, he says, is far more powerful and worthy of their faith. Think about this in relation to other psalms where the king is majorly praised; is this psalm helpful or hurtful to a king trying to assert his power?

    Psalm 119

    • PAY ATTENTION! Sorry for yelling; we just wanted to make sure you were still with us because this one's big. Why? It's about law. Up until now, we've seen the writer ask for loyalty, but this is a whole different ballgame. Now, he also seems to be asking for something more detailed. Law is codified, written down, where loyalty to God is more abstract. Tricky.

    Psalm 120

    • While the author attempts to make peace between his neighbors, his neighbors just yammer on about killing each other. Not the healthiest community relationship, but definitely a notable commentary on violence.

    Psalm 121

    • God's pulling out all the stops this time. Turns out he's so powerful he can prevent sunlight from hitting you in the daytime, and moonlight from hitting you at night. Do we call that an eclipse now?

    Psalm 122

    • The writer prays for Jerusalem, and that's that.

    Psalm 123

    Psalm 124

    • The writer wonders what would have happened to the Israelite armies if God had abandoned them. It's a lot easier to speculate after you win a battle….

    Psalm 125

    • Here's something new: the author condemns evildoers and asserts God's power. Oh, did we say new?

    Psalm 126

    • The meek and the broken will be rewarded when—guess who?—God saves them.

    Psalm 127

    • God must reside in any place that hopes for prosperity and procreation. That's right, the faithful will have lots of sons. We're talking Cheaper by the Dozen style.

    Psalm 128

    • Sons, sons, sons! And…sons.

    Psalm 129

    • The writer recalls his victories and attributes them to his loyalty to God. No surprise there.

    Psalm 130

    • Waiting is a big part of faith—it always has been. The writer knows this and encourages people to remain on board.

    Psalm 131

    • Doubt haunts the author, but he's able to get his act together and write some more poetry.

    Psalm 132

    • Once upon a time, King David declared that he wouldn't rest until God had a place to live. Remember, for the ancients, God wasn't only abstract. He needed a place to live, too. To demonstrate your god's power, you would build—the bigger the better.

    Psalm 133

    • Here we learn that the author is down for communal living.

    Psalm 134

    • One more time for good measure: the writer calls on the faithful to bless God.

    Psalm 135

    • Get ready for another Exodus recap, and some idol bashing.

    Psalm 136

    • Wait, more Exodus recap? Yep, it's just in the cultural stream.
  • Psalm 137

    Verses 1-6

    NRSV
    By the rivers of Babylon— there we sat down and there we wept when we remembered Zion.
    On the willows there we hung up our harps.
    For there our captors asked us for songs, and our tormentors asked for mirth, saying, "Sing us one of the songs of Zion!"
    How could we sing the Lord's song in a foreign land?
    If I forget you, O Jerusalem, let my right hand wither!
    Let my tongue cling to the roof of my mouth, if I do not remember you, if I do not set Jerusalem above my highest joy.

    KJV
    By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down, yea, we wept, when we remembered Zion.
    We hanged our harps upon the willows in the midst thereof.
    For there they that carried us away captive required of us a song; and they that wasted us required of us mirth, saying, Sing us one of the songs of Zion.
    How shall we sing the Lords song in a strange land?
    If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget her cunning.
    If I do not remember thee, let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth; if I prefer not Jerusalem above my chief joy.

    • We know this is a later psalm because it references the destruction of Jerusalem at the hands of the Babylonians, which happened around 586 BCE. To give you some context, people think David lived around 1000 BCE or so.
    • The rivers of Babylon are where they are now—i.e., not Israel.
    • The psalm serves two purposes: (1) lament and (2) prayer for vengeance.
    • Whenever a culture is displaced or endures a shock, it immediately goes into preservation-mode. Think of any major cultural shock and you'll know what we mean.
    • What we get in these first verses is just plain sadness. The Israelites don't want to be in exile because they're farther from God's land.
      Also, if they forget Jerusalem, they don't want to write about anything because nothing else deserves it.
    • The Israelites' culture is so tied up with their land—remember all that nature imagery?—so losing their land means losing much, much more.

    Verses 7-9

    NRSV
    Remember, O Lord, against the Edomites the day of Jerusalem's fall, how they said, "Tear it down! Tear it down! Down to its foundations!"
    O daughter Babylon, you devastator! Happy shall they be who pay you back what you have done to us!
    Happy shall they be who take your little ones and dash them against the rock!

    KJV
    Remember, O Lord, the children of Edom in the day of Jerusalem; who said, Rase it, rase it, even to the foundation thereof.
    O daughter of Babylon, who art to be destroyed; happy shall he be, that rewardeth thee as thou hast served us.
    Happy shall he be, that taketh and dasheth thy little ones against the stones.

    • Well, this got harsh pretty quickly.
    • The vengeance the author hopes for is decidedly violent: he dreams that the Babylonians' children will be thrown against the rocks. Well then.
    • Did you notice that the writer almost lets God off the hook for letting Jerusalem fall? All he does is ask that God remember what happened. 
    • At this point, the writers of the Bible started thinking about God as more universal rather than in "your god vs. my god" terms. Before, God was one among many—the Israelites just thought he was the best. But the traumatic fall of Jerusalem made them think twice…and psalms like this usher in a new era.
  • Psalms 138-150

    Psalm 138

    • Communication between the writer and God could not be better: he calls, God answers.

    Psalm 139

    • Props to God for being ever-present and all-knowing. He was there when you were created, and he'll be there when you die. It's actually an important assertion for the time—it means God isn't just a storm god anymore.

    Psalm 140

    • The enemies of God are back, and the writer can only hope he's on the right side.

    Psalm 141

    • The author hopes that his friends will keep him and his faith in line.

    Psalm 142

    • God serves as the writer's refuge. He's pretty cozy.

    Psalm 143

    • Time for a Q&A with God: is anyone truly innocent? Either way, the writer wants God to lead him into righteousness.

    Psalm 144

    • God's back—but now he's a battle trainer. Here's the thing: in the ancient world, victory in battle meant peace for a while, so God needed to show his face there, too.

    Psalm 145

    • The author expresses his desire for these stories and laws to be transmitted through the generations, and expresses his awe at God's power.

    Psalm 146

    • We feel like we've heard this one before: God performs miracles, and the writer warns the audience not to trust mortals more than God.

    Psalm 147

    • We're getting toward the end, and God now names the stars. Remind you of Genesis, when Adam names the creatures of the earth? It should. God and man both have their respective zones, but God is creator and master of all. Natch.

    Psalm 148

    • Another call to action: the writer wants all creatures to praise God.

    Psalm 149

    • And again—this time with music.

    Psalm 150

    • And for the finale…more music!