Poetry and wisdom
History / wisdom and poetry literature- Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes and Song of Solomon.
Psalms and Proverbs.
Psalms is possibly the best known book in the Old Testament. It’s the Jewish hymn book, still used as such today, and its the source of many of our hymns. Often at the top of a psalm there will be instructions as to which tune to use or which instruments should play for it. Many of them are attributed to David and they cover a wide range of themes. There are many psalms which are praising God for his character, his mighty deeds and for his power in creation. We’ve got Psalm 8 which begins “O Lord our Lord how majestic is your name in all the earth” and psalm 19 “The heavens declare the glory of God” and psalm 148 which is praise for all creation.
Then there are psalms which are about the community and major events, psalms for celebrating harvest, for a royal wedding,for processions going up to the temple, psalms remembering the deliverance from Egypt and the Exodus and psalm 137, the lament of the Jews in exile “By the waters of Babylon we sat down and wept. How can we sing the Lord’s songs in a strange land.”
Lots of the psalms are very individual and they cover the whole range of human needs and emotions. There are cries of despair, railing against God for tragedies and repenting of sin. We have the cry “How long O Lord? Will you forget me for ever?” and a psalm of David when the prophet Nathan had confronted him about his adultery. In remorse he said “Have mercy on me O God according to your unfailing love. Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin.”. But we also have psalms rejoicing in God’s presence and in his faithfulness and his protection. Psalm 18 starts “I love you O Lord my strength.” and another says “I cried unto the Lord and he heard my complaint.” Then there is psalm 139 one of my favourites “O Lord you have searched me and known me “ which goes on to give a very intimate picture of God’s relationship with the writer who he has known from the time he was in the womb.
Jesus of course would have been very familiar with the psalms and often quotes from them. At the last supper, talking of his imminent betrayal he quotes from psalm 41 “he who shares my bread has lifted up his heel against me.” He told a parable about a landowner who went on a journey leaving tenants in charge. When he sent servants to collect the rent the tenants killed them and eventually did the same to the landlord’s son. Jesus quoted from psalm 118 “The stone the builders have rejected has become the capstone.”when he was talking to his disciples at the last supper and predicting his death .
Most famously of all, on the cross he quoted psalm 22 as he cried out “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” The rest of that psalm in an amazing way foreshadows his agony on the cross. “All who see me mock me, they hurl insults shaking their heads. I am poured out like water and all my bones are out of joint. My tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth. They have pierced my hands and my feet. They divide my garments among them and cast lots for my clothing.”
There is so much in the psalms that nourishes us and finds echoes in our own experiences.
It’s no wonder that the psalms have been the inspiration for so many of our hymns and worship songs. The most famous of course is the 23rd The Lord is my shepherd, which is nearly word for word the same. Then we have “As the deer pants for the water,” “Clap your hands all you people” “My soul finds rest in God alone” and “All people that on earth do dwell.” And it’s no wonder that Christians through the ages have been encouraged, inspired and helped in their faith by them..
The book of Proverbs is still about our relationship with God. It starts with a general outline of what wisdom is, God’s creative energy and the ordering principle for life and the fear or reverence of the Lord is the beginning of finding it. Then there is a collection of sayings, many of them attributed to Solomon. He had a great reputation for wisdom and his court became an international centre for the exchange of learning. Many people including the queen of Sheba came to consult with him. Just as the psalms reflect all human emotions and explore man’s relationship with God so too do the sayings in the book of proverbs. Many of them relate to family life and our relationships with our neighbours. “Better a meal of vegetables where there is love than a fatted calf with hatred.” “A cheerful look brings joy to the heart and good news brings health to the bones.” “Train a child in the way he should go and when he is old he will not depart from it.” “Without wood a fire goes out and without gossip a quarrel dies down.” and two slightly humorous ones “Better to live on a corner of the roof than share a house with a quarrelsome wife.” and “Like a gold ring in a pig’s snout is a beautiful woman without discretion.”
Then there are many sayings concerning God’s expectations of justice and his care for us. “The Lord abhors dishonest scales but accurate weights are his delight”, “He who is kind to the poor lends to the Lord and he will reward him for what he has done”, “The fear of the Lord is a fountain of life, turning a man from the snares of death,” “He who fears the Lord has a secure fortress and for his children it will be a refuge.”
It’s a great book to dip into and if you enjoy poetry it finishes with a lovely poem about a wife who is worth more than rubies.
The Psalms and the book of Proverbs remind us that God is involved in every part of our lives and that he wants an intimate relationship with us.
Here’s a final word from Proverbs to hold on to “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him and he will direct your paths.”
This is taken from Joy Kiley’s sermon on 26th July 2015