Thoughts on the Psalms

For almost three thousand years the Psalms have been precious to God’s people, first to the Jews and then, following the coming of Christ, to Christian believers. Indeed the Hebrew psalms for centuries became the church’s song book. They bring us close to the life experiences of people long ago who actually were very much like ourselves today.

Last week I was co-leading a Christian student conference in Brussels with young people from many European countries. It was held in the basment meeting rooms of the Anglican pro-Cathedral (Holy Trinity, Brussels) and as morning by morning our time of worship including many modern Christian songs one thing that struck me was the extent to which they were contemporary paraphrases of the Psalms.

For the past two years, as part of my regular Bible reading I’ve made a new habit of reading sequentially through the Psalms from beginning to end, then starting over again, round and around. For a while I read the longest psalm, 119, separately in parallel with the others and read eight verses a day until I’d been through it three or four times.

In addition to the beautiful classical translation in the Authorised (‘King James’) Version I’m reading them in modern English translations, ranging between the New International Version, the New Living Translation, the New Revised Standard Version, and the English Standard Version. In each of these the Biblical scholars and linguists responsible for them have sought as best they can to bring to us in clear English the sense of the original Hebrew. Translating poetry is never easy, and each of the translations adds its own insights. (If only I could read ancient Hebrew!)

I’m now finding that each time I read a passage I’m seeing some nuance that had previously escaped me. The struggles and the joys of these ancient poets are being revealed in fresh ways, and above all the great faithfulness of God in whom they trusted.

Oh yes, at times as they go through the dark valleys of life they almost despair of ever sensing the presence of God and His goodness again, but He always brings them back into the daylight. They find him to be their rock of stability, their fortress tower of safety, their shepherd who leads them along the best paths. And so today can we.

In this series of Bible Notes I’ll try to share some of the thoughts that have come to me whilst pondering over the Psalms in this way, but before doing that my next post here will be a short overview of the Psalms and its hundred and fifty songs.

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