Book III of The Psalms

Discovery for Teachers

Book III of The Psalms

OVERVIEW
DAYBREAK

SOURCE FOR QUESTIONS
Psalms 73:1 through 89:52

KEY VERSE FOR MEMORIZATION
“For the Lord God is a sun and shield: the Lord will give grace and glory: no good thing will he withhold from them that walk uprightly.” (Psalm 84:11)

BACKGROUND

Book III consists of Psalms 73 through 89. The majority of them (Psalms 73 through 83) are attributed to Asaph, a priest from the tribe of Levi who served in Jerusalem as the chief worship leader during David’s reign, throughout the reign of Solomon, and into the reign of Rehoboam. He probably composed much of the music for David’s psalms; Ezra 2:41 identifies him as the ancestor of the Temple singers. According to Bible scholars, during David’s time several “guilds” were established to train musicians to carry on the musical traditions established by Asaph and others. Of the remaining psalms in this section, three are attributed to the “sons of Korah” (likely a family of Temple singers), David wrote Psalm 86, Heman the Ezraite wrote Psalm 88, and Ethan the Ezraite wrote Psalm 89.

The psalms in this section have been classified in various ways but some of the common groupings are: alphabetic or acrostic psalms, hallelujah psalms, historical psalms, imprecatory (invoking vengeance) psalms, Messianic psalms, penitential psalms, songs of ascent or degrees (sung by pilgrims on the way to Jerusalem), psalms of lament, and psalms of thanksgiving. Each of the major classifications is represented in this collection except for penitential.

As stated in previous lessons, Jewish tradition compares the five sections of the Book of Psalms to the first five books of the Bible. Book III has clear similarities to Leviticus in theme and scope. The purpose of Leviticus was to guide the people in their relationship with a holy God, and many of the psalms in this book focus on worship of God, His sovereignty, and His faithfulness.

The divine title primarily used in this section is El or Elohim (God), the first name for God used in Scripture (Genesis 1:1).

SUGGESTED RESPONSES TO QUESTIONS

  1. Psalm 73 opens with Asaph’s comments on a perplexing subject which is also addressed in Psalms 37 and 49 and the Book of Job: How can our all-powerful God be good and yet allow the righteous to suffer while the wicked seem to prosper? According to verses 16-17, what caused Asaph to change his viewpoint?

    Asaph’s viewpoint was changed when he visited the sanctuary, where he was reminded that God has a larger perspective and purpose than he could see. Until the time when all would be revealed, his help and hope needed to be found in drawing near to the Lord (verse 28) and remembering that God had promised to be with him, hold his hand, guide him with wise counsel, and receive him to glory (verses 23-26).

    As a follow-up, ask your class: How can accepting Asaph’s revised perspective help us in facing the same type of questions today? They should conclude that, like Asaph, we do not see the whole picture. Our earthly view is limited, as is our understanding of the ways of God. All of us at times wonder “Why?” when tragic events occur and impact countless lives. We consider that question when we hear of believers living in poverty, suffering persecution, or enduring heartbreaking trials. However, we must rest in the assurance that God has promised to be sufficient for His own, no matter what the situation. While we may not understand the why, we can be assured that He does all things well, and even incomprehensible events fit into His pattern for good.

  2. Psalm 75:2, 7 and Psalm 82:1, 8 refer to God in His capacity as the Sovereign Judge. What one word do you think best describes the nature of God’s judgment? In what ways does knowledge of God’s ultimate judgment affect us as believers?

    Your class will no doubt bring up words such as righteous, fair, just, and holy to describe God’s judgment. All of these are appropriate, because God’s holiness motivates His righteous judgment. Psalm 75 closes with a focus on divine retribution, indicating that those who maintain their sinful ways ultimately will face a time of accounting to God for their deeds.

    In response to the second question, your group should conclude that although our sinful deeds of the past have already been judged and dealt with at salvation, as believers we must measure our ongoing motives, attitudes, and actions by God’s standard and not that of the culture which surrounds us.

  3. In Psalm 78, Asaph pleaded with the people to pay close attention as he recounted Israel’s history and made known the “dark sayings” (parables) of ancient wisdom imparted by Israel’s forefathers. He stressed that each generation must pass on God’s commandments to the next generation. Based on verses 6-8, list at least three reasons why this should be done.

    Verses 6-8 give six reasons why parents must pass on God’s commandments to their children:

    1. That the coming generation might know them.

    2. That they might pass them on to their children.

    3. That they might set their hope in God.

    4. That they would not forget the works of God.

    5. That they would keep God’s commandments.

    6. That they might not fall into the same errors their forefathers did.

    Teaching God’s ways can be done in corporate worship (church), Sunday school, in the context of personal conversations and mentoring relationships, etc. However, the primary method of transmission is to be within the family unit.

    Adapt your follow-up discussion to the general age of your class members. If you teach young people who are still in the care of their parents, emphasis could be on the importance of paying attention to godly teaching. If your class consists of young couples, they should be impressed with their responsibility to pass on the Gospel heritage they have received to their own children. If your group is made up of older saints, focus can be on spiritual lessons they remember from their childhoods, and the importance of passing on a legacy not only within their own family circles, but also to young believers of the next generation. Point out that no matter what our age, we are called to fulfill the three responsibilities established by the psalmist: to understand and learn from the past, to appreciate and live responsibly in the present, and to pass on the commandments of God to future generations.

  4. Psalms 74 and 79 are companion psalms which lament the destruction of Jerusalem. They reflect the horror the inhabitants of Israel felt as their territorial integrity was violated and their holy places desecrated. According to Psalm 74:1 and Psalm 79:8-9, what did the writer do in the midst of such devastation, loss, and outrage? What can we learn from this about how to handle our times of trial?

    In both psalms, the writer cried out to God for deliverance. Psalm 74:1 reveals that the extremity of distress he was experiencing caused him to conclude that God had forsaken Israel. In Psalm 79:8-9, the psalmist indicated that the calamity which had befallen the nation was related to its past sin.

    In response to the second question, your class should recognize that when we face calamity, we should always call upon God. If sin is the reason for the calamity, the proper response is calling upon Him in a spirit of heartfelt repentance. When the calamity has no connection to known sin, we can still look to God as our Source of deliverance, comfort, encouragement, and hope.

    You may wish to point out that feeling intense emotion in times of crisis is not unusual or wrong. Even thinking that God has forsaken us does not necessarily indicate unfaithfulness. The devil does not hesitate to attack in full force when we have experienced a sudden traumatic event. God under-stands the emotions that result, even if they have been intensified or skewed by the situation.

    These questions provide an opportunity to refer to personal accounts of times when God responded to an anguished plea for help.

  5. Psalm 84 is a beautiful expression of appreciation and longing for God’s house. In verse 10, the psalmist declared that a day “in thy courts” (the sanctuary) was to be valued far above a thousand days spent elsewhere. What does this statement reflect about his priorities?

    This statement reveals that the psalmist greatly valued spending time in God’s house — doing so was clearly a priority. A literal translation of this verse states that just being allowed to stay at the threshold of the door (near God’s presence) is better than dwelling in the tents of worldly men. The psalmist’s concern was not the humility of the position but rather his nearness to the presence of the Lord.

    As a follow-up to this question, you could discuss with your group some ways that we can show honor or appreciation for God’s house. Perhaps the first and most important way is to take to heart what we hear there, and be sure to follow through in obedience. Other thoughts suggested may include: be conscious of the fact that God is present, make church attendance a priority, be careful to maintain a reverent attitude in the sanctuary, make the sanctuary a house of prayer, etc.

  6. Psalm 85 offers praise for Israel’s deliverance from captivity, and includes a prayer for the nation to turn their hearts back to God. Verse 6 asks the question, “Wilt thou not revive us again?” What is revival? What does verse 4 imply regarding the nation of Israel’s part in revival?

    The dictionary definition of the word revival is “renewed attention or interest in something” or “restoration of force, validity, or effect.” In the original Hebrew, the word translated revival comes from a root word meaning “to live” and has the sense of “to quicken or restore to life.”

    While we often think of revival as being of a personal nature, the psalmist here was voicing a plea on behalf of his nation. As your group responds to the second question, comments should bring out that if a nation has turned away from God, there can be no national revival until that nation turns back to Him. Expand your discussion of this point by referring to Psalm 80:3, 7, and 19, all of which record a similar thought: “Turn us again, O God, and cause thy face to shine; and we shall be saved.”

    In a personal sense as well, repentance (turning from sin to God) must precede revival. In Biblical Hebrew, the idea of repentance is represented by two verbs:
    shuv (to return) and nicham (to feel sorrow). In both corporate and personal application, God will only revive hearts that are wholeheartedly facing in His direction.
  7. In Psalm 86:11, the writer follows several verses that describe God’s nature and faithfulness with two requests: “teach me thy way, O Lord” and “unite my heart to fear thy name.” How would you paraphrase this verse? Why is it important to integrate similar requests into our prayers and daily living?

    Allow time for several of your students to share their paraphrases; these will be petitions for God to lead in paths that please Him and to help the one making the petition to be single in focus upon God. Point out that the phrase “unite my heart” seems to indicate the psalmist’s desire for his heart to be single in its views and purposes. Like James in the New Testament, he seems to understand the danger of doublemindedness (see James 1:8).

    In responding to the second question, your group should conclude that making a similar request of God will help us not to be distracted by the culture around us or the cares of life which can so easily sidetrack us from concentrated focus on Him.

  8. Concluding the third book of the Psalms, Psalm 89 begins with the familiar words, “I will sing of the mercies of the Lord for ever.” What is mercy, and why is it so vital in the grand plan of God?

    Class answers should establish that mercy is forbearance shown toward an offender. The Hebrew word for mercy is khesed, and literally means the “loving kindness” which characterizes God. This word describes the very nature of our covenant-keeping Lord.

    In response to the second question, discussion should make it clear that without mercy we cannot receive salvation, because all humanity has sinned and been separated from God. God bridged the gap created by sin through His merciful act of sending Jesus to live, die, and rise again, thus offering us freedom from the penalty of sin. Lamentations 3 tells us that God’s mercies are new every morning, and His faithfulness extends to every generation. Certainly that is reason to join with the psalmist in saying, “I will sing of the mercies of the Lord for ever.”

CONCLUSION

The seventeen chapters in Book III of the Psalms contain the most profound writings celebrating the sovereignty of God in all of the Psalms. The closing verse of Psalm 89 provides a fitting benediction: “Blessed [be] the Lord for evermore. Amen, and Amen” (Psalm 89:52).