Jul28SunJuly 28, 2019
The late author and pastor Eugene Peterson has said that the Psalms are unique in the Bible in that “most of scripture speaks to us; the Psalms speak for us” (Working the Angles, 55). The Psalms teach us how to come to God in prayer, but they can be very confusing for many Christians. Many of the Psalms seem like complaining (these are called lament psalms). Others ask God to destroy our enemies (these are known as imprecatory psalms). Surely God doesn’t want us to pray that way, does He?
The first two Psalms can help us can help us with this question, although they don’t seem to fit with what follows. Psalm 1 is wisdom literature, it would be something we would expect to find in Proverbs. Psalm 2 has a prophetic feel to its language, and seems as if it would be more at home in Isaiah or Ezekiel than where it is. These two introductory psalms are different precisely because they are an introduction. Eugene Peterson refers to Psalms 1 & 2 as two pillars of an “entrance...flanking the way into prayer” (Answering God, 24). They prepare us to enter into intimate prayer with God by re-orienting us from a mindset tuned to the world - where God is mocked and rebelled against (Ps 1:1, 2:1-3), to a mindset that is tuned to God - trusting and submitting to Him. These psalms work together to teach us that the way of the wicked, rebellious, and mockers leads to death (Ps 1:6, 2:12), and that the way of those who delight in God’s law and submit to His authority leads to blessing (Ps 1:1, 2:12).
When we read and pray all of the following psalms in the context of the first two, we gain a more clear understanding of the faith and mindsets of psalmists as they composed the Psalms, as well as the nation of Israel as they sang and prayed them. If we understand the first two psalms, then we begin to understand laments as honest prayers of faith made by hurting people who are expecting God to fulfill his promise to bless those who delight in His law and submit to His authority. Likewise, we begin to understand imprecatory psalms as prayers expressing faith in God’s justice and promise that the way of the wicked will perish. Other types of psalms, such as praises and hymns, celebrate and commemorate God’s faithfulness to His people. Wisdom psalms teach and remind that it is good to delight in the Law of our God and that scripture is sufficient and powerful to bring us close to God, convict us of sin, and direct our paths. Everything in the book of Psalms flows out of the introduction set up in Psalm 1 & 2.